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.
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.
First, we headed into the Rwamagana Prison where we sat with 15 small groups as they were studying the seventh lesson of The Prisoner’s Journey (TPJ). Our seven PFI guests broke up 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 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 TPJ and 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 TPJ course leader
Each small group leader called on a couple of participants to share what the course has meant to them. Time after time, I heard, “I was living in the darkness, but now because of Jesus and His forgiveness, I am living in the light.” 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 TPJ course discussions at Rwamagana Prison
Over the next two days, we spent time around the Kigali and Ngara communities to see ministry activities happening within The Child’s Journey (TCJ), PFI’s signature child sponsorship program. 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. Through TCJ, children of prisoners are matched with a Christian caseworker to guide them through life, often over the span of many years.
Children sponsored through TCJ receive program services like health checks to ensure wellbeing
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)!
Many of us on the trip quickly realized how deeply woven the effects of the 1994 Rwandan genocide are still in the fabric of the nation today. Tanya*, one of the TCJ 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 very well known throughout the region 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.
PFI Regional Manager Franck Baby (left), PFI Donor Relations Director Kristi Padley (middle), 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.
*The Rwandan Reconciliation Villages are unique to Prison Fellowship Rwanda, and I’ve shared this with you because this is incredible restorative justice work. PFI also has efforts to increase the restorative nature of in-prison programming around the world through Sycamore Tree Project (STP). STP is an in-prison course focusing on responsibility, confession, forgiveness and making amends. You can read more about this much-needed work on restorativejustice.org.
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
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!”
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 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.
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, 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.”
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.”
Give a to Help Prisoners Like Mitchum Hear the Gospel
Cristihian Melo is a graduate of The Prisoner’s Journey program offered by Prison Fellowship Uruguay. He shares his story:
“I was incarcerated in the Durazno Prison for 11 months. I agreed to attend the course when I was invited because I told myself that it would just be listening, watching some videos, and filling out a book. I thought it will be good to read a little—and that was the only thing that mattered to me.
But something happened while I participated in the sessions. I became interested in the Gospel of Mark workbook. Then, I was shocked by the videos. I looked forward to the sessions and knew my head had changed.
Today, I am free. I have changed my way of thinking. I am with my family again. I have a house and I am working. I no longer want to do wrong. I have a different way of seeing things. This course changed my thinking and God changed my life.”
Help A Prisoner Like Christihan Today
Despite strict COVID-19 lockdown guidelines prohibiting Prison Fellowship Nigeria staff or volunteers from entering prisons, the Gospel continues to reach prisoners in Nigeria through The Prisoner’s Journey evangelism and discipleship program and other initiatives.
Today, while external volunteers cannot access prisons to facilitate The Prisoner’s Journey, the course continues to run via prisoner volunteers and prison officers. However, many of the program’s graduation ceremonies—a highlight for prisoners—have not been able to take place.
While it is unclear when prisons will reopen their doors to visitors and outside staff, Prison Fellowship Nigeria is not deterred. In addition to The Prisoner’s Journey, they continue to innovate new ways to reach prisoners and meet their immediate needs. In response to COVID-19, Prison Fellowship Nigeria created a new program to make hygiene kits for prisoners. This program gained so much traction, it inspired one prison to provide financial support to create more kits to be distributed to every prison in the country.
Help Support COVID-19 Relief Today
Bible League International (BLI) and Prison Fellowship International (PFI) are partnering to develop solutions to the problems of crime and incarceration worldwide. This week, the organizations, which both have proven evangelism and discipleship programs in prisons around the world, are launching an evangelism and discipleship ministry, which invites prisoners to experience the transforming power and redemptive love of Christ, in Santiago, Chile—the first of 59 countries over the next five years.
“Each ministry brings complementary strengths, products, and relationships to this partnership,” says Jos Snoep, President and CEO of Bible League International. “Together we are able to reach so many more prisoners with the saving and transformative Good News of God’s Word, and then see their lives transformed.”
The organizations offer prisoners a continuum of evangelism and discipleship programming. Based on the Gospel of Mark, PFI’s The Prisoner’s Journey® introduces Jesus, who was also a prisoner, and is deeply relatable. This eight-week program is designed to run three times per year in each prison. Through 16 course videos, participants also hear stories from prisoners around the world whose lives have been changed through their personal journeys with Jesus. Upon completion of the program, course graduates receive their own easy-to-read Bible, God’s Word: Your Journey to Freedom from BLI, and are invited to continue their journey with Jesus through BLI’s Prison Project Philip Bible studies, a 52-lesson series embedded in the Freedom Bible.
BLI provides participants with the Bibles and training they need to lead the studies with other inmates. Each Prison Project Philip participant is encouraged to become part of a local church, whether behind bars or within their community post-release.
“The combination of these evangelism and discipleship studies is life-changing for prisoners,” says PFI CEO Andy Corley. “We’ve found when a prisoner is transformed at a heart-level, his or her chances of thriving outside of prison dramatically increase. We’re also finding it creates a positive shift in the prison culture. Prison officials are telling us there are fewer fights and a calmer atmosphere within their prisons after inmates go through the program. We believe this is an end-to-end solution to the problem of repeat offenders, and we’re grateful for Bible League International’s committed partnership in this effort.”
The two organizations first partnered together in 2014 when BLI donated 25,000 prison Bibles to PFI’s then newly launched program, which has since graduated more than 250,000 prisoners. In an effort to reach nearly 2 million prisoners in 59 countries by 2024, the partners plan to graduate 825,000 prisoners from The Prisoner’s Journey, distribute 688,000 easy-to-read Bibles in 11 languages, and enroll 416,000 participants in Prison Project Philip.
About Bible League International:
Bible League International serves under-resourced churches with Bibles and training to transform lives through God’s Word. For more information, visit bibleleague.org.
This story was originally posted on Christian News Wire.