Prisoners in West Africa Find an Unexpected Freedom

Native missionaries in a country in West Africa did not know what to expect when they went to preach to inmates at a prison they had never visited, in a town unknown to them.

After a more than six-hour trip on rough roads that put them in town in the hottest part of the afternoon, they had to rely on people in the street to help them find the prison, the native ministry leader said.

They had a plan for how to proclaim Christ in a way that would most resonate with the inmates, but some things you couldn’t plan for in the 92-percent Muslim country. They were stunned to be greeted by a social service officer who had witnessed their preaching in the prison closer to their ministry base.

The social service officer began shouting to the prison personnel eating lunch in an adjoining room, according to the ministry leader.

The message seemed to be the last chance for the inmates and the only hope God offered them.

“These people that you see here among us have transformed the lives of detainees and prison officers during their stay in our prison, and I myself was present that day,” the officer told those eating. “Please rise to welcome those partners who came from far away. I know them, they always come with good news – they are Christians, men with a big heart, to come to see us.”

In a country that is less than 1 percent Protestant Christian, the ministry leader said the officer’s testimony opened hearts in their favor before they had even begun.

“Without further ado, the other leaders stood up to walk towards us,” he said. “Each one came in turn, to present himself to us according to his name and rank. Thank you, Lord – suddenly the atmosphere had changed, and joy and peace invaded everyone’s hearts.”

The prison warden led them to his office to welcome them, and the missionaries presented the soap, toothbrushes and other hygiene products they had purchased for prisoners in the sanitation-depleted facility.

The prison officials felt a great relief to see all the donated items, the warden told him.

“The warden testified that we were the first partners to come to them to offer them such gifts,” the leader said. “He said, ‘Our prison is totally lacking in sanitation products and materials,’ as he pointed to the reserves, which was almost exhausted. ‘The detainees have really been in need for a very long time,’ he continued. Seeing the amount of donations, the entire penitentiary team continued to thank us.”

Children, Obey Your Parents

Officials escorted the missionary team into the prison of 51 inmates, all men except for one woman. The courtyard in the primitive facility was not large enough to accommodate all the prisoners, so some remained in their sweltering cells. After officials gave an order for silence, even those in their cells could hear the team member as he imparted his message.

“One could hear only the voice of our brother echoing through the walls and hearts of the inmates and prison officers standing under the high sun, while others were inside the cells,” the leader said. “All under a relentless sun, we could only hear our brother preach with power and strength the gospel of Christ in a good local language.”

In a culture of ironclad family and communal bonds, the starting point of the message was not where preachers in more individualistic cultures might begin: The admonition in Eph. 6:1-3 for children to obey their parents.

“The theme of our message is always the same in every prison,” the ministry leader said. “‘Children, obey your parents, according to the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and your mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), so that you may be happy and live long on the earth.’ It particularly concerns every human being, whether Christian, Muslim, animist or other, and everyone in this country is deeply concerned by this message.”

As the speaker moved on to the need for the forgiveness found in Christ’s death and resurrection, inmates and officials alike were fascinated to hear words of eternal life, he said.

“One could feel the glorious presence of the Holy Spirit convicting each person of sin,” he said. “Some of the detainees were stopped in the hot sun, others were miserable in the heat inside the cells, but each one drank with appetite every word and every sentence of the gospel that resonated with force upon force in the local language.”

The message seemed to be the last chance for the inmates and the only hope God offered them, he said.

“Some had eyes wet with tears. Others looked very sad and regretful,” he said. “Because our society is deeply based on family life; impossible to get around this reality.”

The speaker told them that only in Jesus Christ was there power “to break this family curse” of sin and to free anyone who believes. He made no call to repentance – in their culture, the missionaries leave the decision to be made privately in each heart, as a public declaration can put their lives in danger, the ministry leader said.

Still, they heard many of the prisoners say, “Yes, everything that this man says is true,” he said.

“The guilt was great and felt in everyone by the absolute calm that reigned throughout the yard, because everyone was facing his destiny,” he said. “The brother revealed in his teaching how very important it is to become a Christian.”

After the message, they distributed Bibles in two languages.

The Miracle of Salvation

“All of a sudden, a miracle occurs in front of us – here is a young Muslim official who comes to ask us for a Bible in the local language, and he tells us that the word he has just heard deeply touched him, so he decided to become a Christian,” the leader said. “It was moving; we did now have tears in our eyes. The Holy Spirit had just confirmed that He is with us in this work among detainees and prison officers.”

The joy beaming in the faces of everyone after the teaching showed that they felt a relief in seeing within reach a solution to their difficulties by putting faith in Christ, he said.

“The official told us that he never heard such a word in his whole life, and that to become a Christian is the best thing on earth,” the leader said.

Such native missionaries are working throughout Africa to bring the first mention of Christ’s light that many will ever hear. Please consider a donation today to equip and send them on adventures of evangelism and discipleship.

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