“Please don’t forget us.” I have heard this plea spoken many times by prisoners in Malawi. These words not only resonated in my heart but motivated me to engage and lead a ministry to prisoners in Malawi.
So, what are these prisons really like? They are overcrowded, they lack the basic necessities of life that we might take for granted – soap, medicine, clothing, food and clean water, and they are places filled with despair. Yet in the midst of many of these difficulties, for many, their greatest need is to not be forgotten. Most have been forgotten by their country, some have been forgotten by their families and others wonder if God has forgotten them.
Is there any hope?
Seeing such desperation in the lives of so many prisoners, Rebecca and I when we were ministering under the PCC in Malawi from 2004-2007 and again in 2015-2016 began a ministry with a group of dedicated volunteers called ‘Friends of Prisons’.
Our Focus? “Seeds of Hope” through two essential ways.
Ministry of Presence:
Each week the volunteers facilitate weekly Bible study and prayer programs, and they provide counselling to individuals who are struggling with life issues. Recently an Alpha program (translated into Chichewa – the prominent language in the southern part of Malawi where our ministry is located) was introduced and led in a couple of prisons. Through these different means we remind these prisoners they are loved by God and not forgotten by Him. It is through the volunteers that the love of God is incarnated, and as a result there are men and women committing their lives to Jesus and choosing to trust in him regardless of their circumstances.
Providing basic necessities.
Each month we distribute soap, clothing, medicine and other essential items to the prisons. These are important acts of love and care that we take seriously.
In addition to these two essential ministries, we continually look for new opportunities to assist the prisoners. In 2020, we launched a pilot project providing further theological education for 11 prisoners and one prison guard with the hope of them providing further leadership within the prisons. We live with great hope that God will open doors for these prisoners when they are released.
We began this ministry in one prison and today we are involved in 17 prisons (12 male and 5 female) which accounts for approximately 2,800 men and women
I often get asked, “why so many prisoners”, and the answer is not straightforward. Some are there because they have committed significant crimes, others are there due to lesser offenses and because they are unable to pay the fine, they are put in prison. Others have fallen into the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. To complicate things, the judicial system is overwhelmed and as a result many in the prisons have overstayed what their sentence would have been if convicted.
Regardless of the reasons, we want to reach out to them with the love of God in Jesus. My present role, in addition to serving as a pastor of a Canadian congregation, is overseeing the work of the volunteers and helping the Canadian church to see opportunities to become involved. This ministry is under the auspices of International Needs and my personal costs (stipend and travel) are covered by Presbyterians Sharing. However, all costs of this ministry, such as purchasing of supplies, paying for program expenses and the travel vouchers for the volunteers to reach the prisons, must be raised by me each month. The reality of COVID–19 has made this more challenging, but the ministry moves forward. Thanks be to God!
We are continually looking for individuals, congregations or companies to partner with us as Friends of Prisons. This can happen by supporting this ministry through prayer, sharing this ministry with others, and through financial support.
If you would like more information, or begin to partner, or receive a monthly e-newsletter please send me an email <firstname.lastname@example.org> or give me a call (519 865 7896). You can also check out our Facebook page – Malawi-Friends-of-Prison. Together, we can make a difference by planting “seeds of hope”.