One of my main functions in the Hope Prison Ministry team is to co-ordinate the internship program. In the past 2 months we have hosted 10 interns from varying backgrounds; and the final stretch of the program will come to a close at the end of this month. It has been more than a full time responsibility, as it goes beyond prison ministry. It also means overseeing logistics, such as meals, training, devotions, hospitality etc.
Though I have worked with short term teams before, I was still greatly challenged. Two words: long-suffering! There is no doubt that God is still chiseling away at me, and filing down my rough surfaces.
Every Friday, I lead a two-hour bible study in Allendale prison. This is one of the highlights of my week! Allendale is a relatively small, medium security, adult men’s facility. We meet in a little library (about 2.5m x 4m in area) with about 20 inmates. In the last few weeks, we have been discussing ‘character’ through the different stories and personalities in the bible. The turnover in the group is quite high, as many men are either pre-release or awaiting sentencing. Despite the obvious challenges that this presents, every week the little room is packed beyond capacity, the worship is filled with passion and hearts open to honestly discuss and decipher the living Word of God.
The Holy Spirit seems to be working overtime with one particular inmate that I met during these Friday sessions. For the purpose of confidentiality, I will refer to him simply as M.F. He is a middle aged man, and this isn’t his first sentence. When he came back to prison both his legs were broken and the doctors told him that he would never walk again; today he can happily limp without the assistance of crutches! The first time he joined our Friday meeting, he looked tired and troubled – he cried for most of the time he was there. He said that God had been waking him up in the middle of the night and telling him to listen to His word. Another team member and myself go back in to Allendale on Wednesdays to counsel, pray for and disciple him as much as God gives us opportunity to do so.
Thursday’s are exceptionally long days, as a team of us go in to one of the larger prisons of the western cape for a morning session from 9am-11am, and then stick around for an afternoon session from 1pm-3pm.
The morning session is literally inside one of the units, an average of 60 inmates attends; presenting a unique set of challenges and opportunities. In contrast we spend the afternoon in a classroom with about 15 inmates.
In addition to weekly bible studies and monthly prayer walks, a powerful part of our arsenal is Restorative Justice. This is a program that is run for 6hrs a day for 6 days, followed by 2 months of weekly follow-ups. Each program caters to 20-25 students (inmates) in groups of 4-5. Each group is assigned a lead and co-facilitator.
During this confrontational program we teach and challenge inmates on topics such as: their roots and the factors that lead them into crime, the ripple effects of crime, repentance, confession, accountability, restitution, what the victims of crime and their families suffer and the core values of trust, respect, honesty and integrity.
At the and of the week, the inmates are brought together with their own families, and we facilitate a time of reconciliation. Our hope is that in time, some of these offenders will be ready and genuine enough to take part in a victim-offender dialogue (and opportunity for healing, forgiveness and reconciliation). Also, that as they are released from prison, their family situations may be healed enough to prevent the same cycles of brokenness from repeating. I have participated in facilitating two such programs in the past month.
Last week, during one of the follow up sessions, 2 of the most unlikely participants (insistently) chose to give their lives to Christ. One, a notorious drug lord & sex trader, the other a lifelong gangster, bomber and murder (who’s father founded one of the Western Cape’s largest street gangs). God has plans for these men; to redeem their lives, to give them HOPE and a future!