TOMÁŠ | Czech Republic

Testimony of a New Friendship 

I would like to share with you a real-life story about two friends and the testimony they shared in the chapel of Rýnovice prison. Before I start telling this true story, I have to go back in time to introduce to you the two protagonists and shed some light on their previous lives. The story starts with gossip, hatred, pain and fear, but ends with reconciliation, understanding, cooperation, forgiveness and hope.

Addicted and Harmful

There were once two young men who lived in the same town. They knew about each other but hadn’t met yet. What they had in common was that they were both drug addicts. At some point, they finally met and became friends, although I am not sure you can call a relationship between two addicts a friendship. Anyway, they started spending more time together, selling drugs together and supporting one another.

But, as expected, the drugs eventually took their toll and started tearing them apart, destroying the core of their being. Their characters changed and so did their priorities. They started badmouthing, stealing from and generally hurting each other. I cannot say which of the individuals was worse. They both share the blame for what happened between them. They started hating each other to such an extent that it could not end well. Eventually, revenge and retaliation followed. It went so far that one of them contributed to the other ending up in prison. And even then, they hadn’t stopped. The one who was not in prison continued to do bad things to the other one until he too ended up in prison!

Even though they landed up in different prisons, the hatred didn’t stop. They both spent their evenings thinking about how they would get back at each other when they got out.

Crossing Paths

Back then, they had no idea that their paths would cross sooner than they imagined. They would end up standing side by side, face to face in the same prison. What none of them could imagine actually happened. And so, they crossed paths once more, and it happened in the strangest place one could ever imagine. That place was the chapel of Rýnovice prison, and they met because they both, independent of each other, decided to enroll in the program called The Prisoner’s Journey®.

I think that on the day they met again, they both had very mixed feelings about what was going to happen and doubts about where it was going to lead. But God wanted their paths to cross again, and they even ended up sitting next to each other in the chapel. As they sat there, they started sharing their lives again, explaining each other’s point of view, and most of all, apologizing to each other.

The idea of forgiveness started taking shape.

Finding Reconciliation and Forgiveness

With each subsequent meeting, their relationship flourished. They started cooperating and reading the Gospel of Mark together. They watched videos of bad deeds that ended in compassion and hope. They even drew the scene of the Last Supper, which is all about betrayal but also forgiveness. Instead of war, peace entered their lives. Out of hatred came a new, true and pure friendship—a friendship without drugs. They promised each other they would no longer pursue revenge once they were released. In fact, they were quite sad that the program was ending.

Not only did they find out about the Lord Jesus and the reasons why He came to the world, but they also resolved a long-standing conflict between them, forgave each other and became friends again.

Everything written above is true because I was one of the two friends!

MATTHEW | Liberia

Matthew was born into a Christian household, surrounded by the familiar rituals of faith and attending church with his family. However, as he traversed the tumultuous path of adolescence and entered adulthood, the allure of the world tugged at his heartstrings, gradually luring him away from his spiritual roots. He distanced himself from the church, seeking solace in the fleeting pleasures of life.

“In the five or six years before I entered prison, I stopped going to church,” Matthew confessed, reflecting on his journey.

The once-vibrant flame of his faith dimmed, casting shadows of doubt upon his soul. As he found himself confined within the bleak walls of a prison, anger swelled within him, fueled by the perceived injustice of his circumstances. “Why did God allow me to suffer for something that wasn’t my fault?” he bitterly pondered, wrestling with his shattered trust.

His friends, who had enrolled in The Prisoner’s Journey®, extended a lifeline of hope. They urged him to join them, their words brimming with excitement. “You should come, Matthew,” they implored, their voices carrying the echoes of transformation. The first class left them awe-inspired, eager to share their newfound insights with their incarcerated friend.

Intrigued by their tales of personal growth and captivated by the videos of prisoners from distant lands, Matthew hesitantly agreed to participate. Little did he know that this reluctant step would mark the beginning of his own remarkable journey toward redemption.

Through The Prisoner’s Journey, Matthew found his mind and heart unfettered, liberated from the shackles of anger and resentment.

“I am free now, even though I am still behind bars,” he joyfully proclaimed.

The burdens he had carried for so long were surrendered to a higher power, as he learned to trust in the process of healing and forgiveness. The program had touched him deeply, prompting Matthew to remark, “The Prisoner’s Journey has really changed my life for good.” He reveled in the newfound freedom that blossomed within his soul, an inner transformation that defied the confines of his physical surroundings. Inspired by the profound impact of the program, Matthew resolved to become a course leader himself, driven by a heartfelt desire to guide and uplift his fellow prisoners.

“I am so grateful for how The Prisoner’s Journey has changed my life,” he gratefully declared, his voice resonating with a profound sense of purpose. Matthew had journeyed through the depths of despair, emerging on the other side with a renewed spirit and an unwavering faith in the transformative power of hope.

In the tapestry of Matthew’s story, threads of doubt and anger were woven with strands of redemption and gratitude. The Prisoner’s Journey had become the loom on which his life was rewoven, knitting together the broken pieces of his existence into a tapestry of resilience and spiritual renewal. And as Matthew walked the path of redemption, he discovered that even within the confines of a prison cell, the light of faith could illuminate the darkest corners of his soul.

Transform Prisoners like Matthew

Regaining His Self-Worth

Those in prison are cast off from society, often vilified and forgotten. But when they are invited to participate in an eight-week course that invites them to learn about Jesus, why He came, and what it means to follow Him, they can regain a sense of self-worth and inherent dignity.

Amavi’s bad life decisions led to his arrest and serving a prison sentence in Togo. “I used to seal from others in my community regularly until the police finally arrested me,” he says.

When Amavi first came to prison, he noticed some of his peers inviting others to join a course. Then, they invited him. “I decided to accept and joined The Prisoner’s Journey course,” he says.

During the course, learned there was a better way to live life. “My eyes were opened to what my life was really like,” Amavi says, “so I gave my life to Jesus. Through accepting Him as my Savior, He forgave my sins and transformed me. I feel a deep peace in my heart.”

When Amavi is released from prison, he plans not to return to his old way of stealing from others. “I have learned that I must be patient and work to earn my pay. Jesus is, and always will be, my light.”

Because Amavi chose to accept the invitation to participate in The Prisoner’s Journey course, he will now be able to return to his community restored.

Prison Fellowship Rwanda Vision Trip

The only words I can muster since my recent return from a Vision Trip to Rwanda are, “My heart is overflowing!” We spent a week with the Prison Fellowship Rwanda team and I am so impressed with how strong they are, the progress of the programs they are running and how they impact the lives of so many prisoners and their families through Jesus’s love.

The Prisoner’s Journey®

First, we went into Rwamagana Prison where we sat with 15 small groups who were studying the seventh lesson of The Prisoner’s Journey. Our guests broke into groups of two or three and were invited to sit amongst the prisoner groups. Of these 15 groups, only one was led by an external volunteer with prison access while the other 14 of them were led by internal volunteers (prisoners or corrections staff members who are so moved by the course that they complete an eight-hour training to become a leader). This practice is what sustained The Prisoner’s Journey program and other in-prison ministry around the world during the pandemic. While prisons were closed to external visitors, our programs did not have to stop because God had prepared certified, trained staff on the inside!

Prison Fellowship Rwanda volunteer Francoise, currently the only external course leader for The Prisoner’s Journey.

Each small group leader called on a couple of participants to share what the course has meant to them.

“I was living in the darkness, but now because of Jesus and His forgiveness, I am living in the light,” one prisoner said.

As more prisoners shared, I kept hearing answers of deliverance from darkness and having their burdens lifted as they learned of His forgiveness. One young man shared that he was in prison for stealing a motorbike and he was angry when he was arrested. All he could do was count how many motorbikes he would steal once he was released from prison. He told us that now that he’s nearly completed the program, this desire no longer lives in his heart. He has realized that he must take ownership and responsibility for his crime and because of this, he wants to be a better person once he released from prison.

A rare opportunity to sit among prisoners during The Prisoner’s Journey course discussions at Rwamagana Prison.

The Child’s Journey®

Over the next two days, we spent time around the Kigali and Ngara communities to see ministry activities happening within The Child’s Journey, our signature program for children with incarcerated parents. Witnessing local song and dance, health checks and clothing distribution, we played games like Duck-Duck-Goose and Red Rover with the children and staff. Parents, caregivers and children also shared beautiful stories and testimonies of how difficult their life was before the program, and how it has helped them since enrollment. Through The Child’s Journey, children with parents who are incarcerated are matched with a Christian caseworker to guide them through life, often over the span of many years.

Children sponsored through The Child’s Journey receive program services like health checks to ensure well-being.

One day, I sat in on a group discussion for children aged 12 and over on an important topic: planning for the future. They asked questions like, “Who are your five best friends today? Do they make you feel better about yourself or worse? When making decisions, do you think about who it will impact and could the decision stop you from reaching your goals?” Having the children answer these types of questions allowed them to think about where they are in life, where they want to be and what kind of influence their friends are. Not only does sponsorship provide material items like food and shelter for children, but it also ensures access to opportunities for increasing self-esteem, building hope and improving interpersonal relationships.

Rwandan children and caregivers gathered with smiles and laughter to welcome our group.

We loved seeing all the happy faces as we distributed clothes (left) and played games, like jump rope (right)!

Restorative Justice

Many of us on the trip quickly realized how deeply woven the effects of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda are still in the fabric of the nation today. Tanya*, one of The Child’s Journey caseworkers, lost her entire family, including her siblings and parents, to the genocide. A neighbor found her as an infant in a field and raised her as her own. Now, she has found healing and works at Prison Fellowship Rwanda to support children of prisoners with healing of their own. Only God the Father can bring about that kind of healing.

We also got to sit down at dinner with Bishop Deogratias Gashagaza, the Executive Director of Prison Fellowship Rwanda. He is well known across the country for the work he has done to establish reconciliation practices between the Hutus and Tutsis. This includes a longstanding Prison Fellowship Rwanda initiative, Reconciliation Villages. In these communities, sprawled across the country with 864 homes, genocide survivors and perpetrators live alongside each other. They are places where convicted killers take responsibility for their crimes through reconciliation efforts and survivors and refugees offer forgiveness.

Prison Fellowship International Staff with Prison Fellowship Rwanda Executive Director Bishop Deogratias Gashagaza (right).

Many of the people living in these villages have lived here for over a decade, including Lorince. During the genocide, two of her neighbors helped kill her family. She was pregnant at the time and had an infant, so she ran and hid for a long time. The men got out of prison years later and Prison Fellowship Rwanda invited Lorince’s and the neighbors’ families to live in the village together. When she moved in, she had not yet forgiven those who killed her family. She told us that during the genocide, she promised God that she would serve him if he saved her and her child. She heard God speaking to her, asking to forgive, and so she worked very hard to do so. Her face was beautiful with peace as she told us her story while sitting next to the men who caused her so much harm. It was truly awe-inspiring as only God can soften hearts like that. 

Refugee Lorince, who lives in a Reconciliation Village, shares her story.

God was truly with us on this Vision Trip to Rwanda as we all came away with hearts overflowing. Prison Fellowship Rwanda is powerfully transforming lives of prisoners, their families and victims of crime across the nation through their own and Jesus’s love. It was an incredible thing for us to witness that impact.

*Name changed for privacy 

Free and Secure

Locked away, cut off from society, forgotten, Britney’s day-to-day routine serving a prison sentence was mundane. When there is nothing to look forward to—no visits or calls from family or friends, no celebrations, no special outings—it only increases the feelings of being hopeless and bored.

And Britney was bored. Then one day, something different happened—she received an invitation to participate in Prison Fellowship International’s eight-week in-prison evangelization program, The Prisoner’s Journey.

“I was not interested in the course,” says Britney. “I only signed up so I could come out of the cell.”

But after the second session, Britney realized she really needed this class because it could help her. She attended the sessions, learning about Jesus, why He came, and what it means to follow Him.

“The class impacted me in such a tremendous way—growing my knowledge of my Savior, building my faith, and showing me that all is not lost. God could still redeem and set me free. My mind became free and secure in my Father’s care.”

Britney completed the course, receiving a Bible and certificate during the graduation celebration.

When Britney was released from prison, she had accepted Christ as her Savior. She connected with a local church and continued to grow in her relationship with Christ. Soon, she was sharing her story to help others.

Today, Britney is a motivational speaker, especially for inmates. “I look at my graduation certificate each day. I say I will do everything for the will of God. I am grateful for the open door that gave me this start!”

A Christmas Message

From PFI President & CEO, Andrew Corley

Charles Dickens created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is one of the Victorian era’s great novelists. His stories still speak to us today. What is less well known is that Dickens was a believer and a follower of Christ and much of his writing is the result of personal experience. What is even more interesting is that he was the child of a prisoner.

Fired by righteous indignation stemming from his situation and the conditions of the poor in his time these became major themes of his work.

In A Christmas Carol, which sums up some of the major themes, we see Ebenezer Scrooge’s heart change. He starts with the immortal line “Bah Humbug!”… cold and hard, unable to think of others…..but Scrooge’s eyes are opened, and eventually he treats others with kindness, generosity, and compassion, embodying the spirit of Christmas

His life was transformed by perspective, understanding, and generosity.

I also want to encourage you with these words from the mouth of the creator of the Universe, whose birth as the fully God and fully human one we celebrate at this time:

“The Son of Man will come again with divine greatness, and all his angels will come with him. He will sit as king on his great and glorious throne. All the people of the world will be gathered before him. Then he will separate everyone into two groups. It will be like a shepherd separating his sheep from his goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the king will say to the godly people on his right, ‘Come, my Father has great blessings for you. The kingdom he promised is now yours. It has been prepared for you since the world was made. It is yours because when I was hungry, you gave me food to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I had no place to stay, you welcomed me into your home. When I was without clothes, you gave me something to wear. When I was sick, you cared for me. When I was in prison, you came to visit me.’ “Then the godly people will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food? When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you with no place to stay and welcome you into our home? When did we see you without clothes and give you something to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and care for you?’ “Then the king will answer, ‘The truth is, anything you did for any of my people here, you also did for me.’”
—‭‭Matthew‬ ‭25:31-40‬ ‭ERV‬‬‬‬‬‬

At Prison Fellowship International, this is our goal:

Our wonderful donors, of which you are one, have risen again and again to the opportunity to partner with us. The impact is undeniable.

Thank you. You have no idea how appreciated you are.

And by the grace of God and with your support we are resolutely committed to accelerating into the future in 2021. This is the theme of our faith-filled strategic plan for next year.

It will continue because of the passion that God has placed in each of us, through the generosity of good people like yourselves and because it must according to the command of Jesus.

We still have many financial needs for this year and next. Would you help us with a special single gift at this critical time?

We are deeply grateful for your continued support, perspective, understanding, and generosity. And we cannot do this without you.

I sign off all my communication with the following signatory words: “We go because we must, we go well because we can”.

I might add “we also go because our wonderful supporters enable us to.”

Patricia’s Journey from Anger to Understanding

Patricia was angry. Very angry. She believed she did not deserve to be in prison. Her anger continued to smolder until volunteers came to her prison, in Spain, and invited her to participate in Prison Fellowship International’s eight-week in-prison evangelization program, The Prisoner’s Journey®. Immediately, Patricia identified with Jesus’s story.

The program teaches about Jesus—who was wrongly accused and imprisoned—why he came, and what he wants prisoners to do with their lives.

“At first, I thought the lesson The Prisoner’s Journey was teaching is that Jesus was also imprisoned without reason—just like how I thought I was!” says Patricia. “It wasn’t until I finished the course that I realized what I thought was the lesson was wrong.”

Patricia learned that Jesus was a man full of goodness, who always forgave everyone—even when he didn’t have to. Even when he was wrongly accused.

“I also learned that Jesus was rejected by society as all prisoners are, which has helped my anger, my anguish, and my fears to shrink,” says Patricia.

Patricia says she now prays that we would not be blinded and hindered by our obstacles. And instead, that we would take advantage of them so that we can grow spiritually. Just like how God met Patricia in her anger and revealed himself to her, igniting a journey toward understanding and healing.

Florence’s Spiritual Encounter

Breaking the cycle of crime is difficult. But through a holistic approach that cares for prisoners’ spiritual lives, physical needs, and family relationships, it’s not just possible—it’s happening. Florence, a prisoner and a mother of two from Zambia, will tell you.

“I was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor,” says Florence. “I felt sorry for myself, but there was nothing I could do at the time.”

When Florence went to prison, she left her young daughters, Ketty and Chisenga, in her father’s care, but he struggled to provide for their needs. Ketty and Chisenga stopped going to school because they couldn’t afford to buy shoes, clothes, and school supplies.

“I was so annoyed with myself because I was the one who had been providing for them, but now I couldn’t,” says Florence.

When it seemed hope was lost, a team from Prison Fellowship Zambia visited Florence’s prison to tell the inmates about a program that cared specifically for children of prisoners by providing them with food, clothing, spiritual care, home visits, and helping them pay for school fees.

Florence immediately registered her girls and, through Prison Fellowship Zambia, saw something greater at work in her life. While the staff sought out her children in their hometown, volunteers began visiting Florence and sharing about God’s love and faithfulness.

“I have seen the hand of God in my life,” says Florence. “I saw it while in prison. . . . After hearing the Word of God, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. That very day was the beginning of my transformation.”

To learn more about what it looks like to follow Jesus, Florence joined Prison Fellowship International’s in-prison evangelization program, The Prisoner’s Journey®. Through it, she learned more about who Jesus is and what he calls her to do with her life. After graduating from the eight-week program, Florence decided to take her faith one step further and join Prison Fellowship International’s Sycamore Tree Project: Justice and Peace®: Justice and Peace, where she learned what it looks like to take responsibility for her action and make amends to the people she hurt.

Florence now considers herself a changed woman with a new focus in life.

“The greatest desire of my heart now is the Bible. I am very grateful to God and to Prison Fellowship Zambia. [They are] Indeed doing amazing things in the lives of inmates and their children.”

Mitchum’s Transformation

The Prisoner’s Journey® evangelism and discipleship program is changing hearts and minds across the globe. The program was recently implemented in the Caribbean region. Mitchum, a prisoner in the Cayman Islands, says before taking the eight-week course, he worried a lot and regularly felt depressed and confused.

“As I listened to and watched the videos and participated in The Prisoner’s Journey, I found out who Jesus really is,” says Mitchum. “He is the Son of God and came to save us from sin.”

Halfway through the course, Mitchum and two other men asked to be baptized.

“It was the best decision I ever made in my life,” says Mitchum. “I have found my Lord and Savior. Any problems I have, I take to Him in prayer and ask Him to show me the way. I ask him to protect me each step that I take and the choices that I make. I have an inner peace that can only come from God.”

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