April 7 – Worship and Say Goodbye

Both pastors arrived exactly at the promised time of 9:00 and we took a lot of photos and killed a bit of time. Church was at Pastor James’ church, which is co-pastored by Pastor Alpha. There were two people in the small 20’x40’ church singing with Pastor James on a very loud, overloaded and distorted speaker set with echo to make things worse. The concrete building echos so well that the entire service could be conducted without a microphone, but that would not be African style.

Pastor James gave a lesson from James 5 (the woman with a discharge of blood and Jairus’ daughter. There was then another time of loud, repetitive worship before Tom gave a brief message about Knowing, Going and Showing. It was then time to begin our three-hour drive to the airport. 

We have had a very successful trip. We have worked closely with two pastors that we have been communicating with for a couple years. We hosted and taught one Prison Ministry Training Conference and to Leadership Conferences in two separate areas of Sierra Leone. We met dozens of faithful Christians, many of whom have a passion for prison ministry and we are hopeful that we have inspired and encouraged many others to do the same. We conducted two successful audits and we made many new contacts and friendships. We visited four prisons, sharing the gospel with 750 inmates. We distributed 1,430 bars of soap, 1,364 toothbrushes, 1,364 tubes of toothpaste, 50 washable sanitary napkins, about 75 T-shirts and 190 Bibles, among other small gifts and items given to our national hosts and missionaries. Our team did a wonderful job, we all grew in our faith an in our love for one another and God was Glorified. Psalm 99:5

Friday, April 5, 2019 – Travel to Freetown to Pademba Road Prison

It was a three hour drive to Freetown from Makeni and we had to leave at 5:30am because we had an appointment with the head of the Chaplains for the entire country and the OC of Pademba Road Prison, the largest prison in Sierra Leone. Before arriving at the prison we had to purchase Bibles. Our budget allowed us to purchase 100 hardcover RSV and 20 NIV Bibles. I also bought a new ESV Study Bible for $17, one-third of the lowest price I’ve ever seen for it. I will place it in the customer lounge at my shop.

Arriving at the prison we were met by a lady in clergy attire, in charge of the Chaplaincy in the country. She led us into the administration grounds and, after a ten minute wait, she invited us into the O.C.’s office. 

He was a large man, especially by Sierra Leone standards. He was a Christian man who spoke very good English and Nathan told him about our ministry, thanked him for receiving us, and presented him with our gifts. He told us his wife is currently visiting the USA and his daughters are both in college in New Jersey. He then made sure we understood the rules of the prison and granted us permission to go to Pademba Road.

We had to drive several blocks to the prison which is located in the center of Freetown. It is a very large and highly secured prison with brick and concrete walls at least 30 feet tall. There is a sign on painted on the outside wall with drawing of prohibited items such as guns, drugs, gin, ladders, cell phones, and rum. Interestingly, there was no mention of gin or pick-axes or shovels. 

We unloaded all of the aid and waited a while before we were granted entrance. Walking through the enormous steel door we found ourselves in the guard station where they searched us thoroughly and we waited about 15 minutes for all of the formalities between our national hosts and the prison officials before being escorted into the prison.

We walked through the double gate into a very large prison complex. There were many buildings and many different retention areas, all numbered and fenced. Steve commented that the buildings looked really old – It turns out the prison was built in 1814. We had to walk past several areas and buildings and through a couple gates before reaching the area of the Chapel where our service would be held. 

There were about 250 men in the chapel loudly singing worship songs and when we walked in they were extremely excited to see us. We walked down the middle of the aisle shaking hands and giving high-fives on the way to the front of the chapel where we would be seated. 

They finished their singing soon thereafter and Mark gave the IGL presentation and introduced me as the Emcee. Steve gave his testimony followed by Mark and Nathan giving sermons. Dan then did a great job on the altar call to which 16 men came forward to profess new-found faith in Christ. Mark offered the healing prayer to a much larger group of men – probably 40 or 50. Tom prayed for the inmate church leaders and charged them with discipling the men that had come forward a few minutes earlier. I told them about the gifts we had brought for them and then we were able to distribute them to all of them. There were many, many left over that would be later distributed to the rest of the prison. 

This was a very lively service – we were in the chapel so most of the men are the church in the prison. However, as in every church, there are those who are coming week after week or day after day but don’t have a saving faith in Christ. We are so blessed that we can come to Africa and preach a message of repentance and faith in Christ and see God turn the hearts of men to himself. 2 Tim 2:25-26, Titus 3:4-5.

The power went out toward the end of the service and it immediately felt like it heated up by 20 degrees because there was no air movement from the fans. We were trying to hurry to go but Morris kept greeting and talking with all of the officials and the chaplains. We finally dragged him out of the chapel and, after some photos outside the prison, we departed for our hotel about 20 minutes away. 

The hotel is nice by African standards. There was a trickle of water from the faucets – enough to fill buckets and take splash baths. The beds were reasonably comfortable and the A/C worked, albeit it very poorly at times due to the power grid of the city. We almost changed rooms because we were told the A/C worked better on the upper floor but then they wanted to charge us more money. The decided, instead, to run the generator so the power would be sufficient and stable. It was fine for the rest of our two-night stay (for most of us). 

Pray for Travel Health

I have a stomach issue today. Light stomach discomfort all day that seems like more of a sharp pain this evening and now as I go to bed. Most likely due to something I ate. PLEASE PRAY that I will get better overnight since we travel home tomorrow. PLEASE PRAY that nobody else on the team is effected.

Saturday, April 6, 2019 – Leadership Conference and Goodbye Dinner in Waterloo (Freetown)

With nothing on the agenda for the day I was able to sleep-in. I’m in a proper bed for the first time this week so I got my best night sleep all week. I think I am finally adjusted to the time change just in time to go home and suffer jet lag for another week.

I stepped outside and my glasses fogged up immediately. It is already hot at 7:00am and the air is thick with smoke. Today is Clean Day, the first Saturday of the month – a day designated for everyone to clean, either their home or the streets around their home or business. Since nobody is allowed to drive until noon it is very quiet outside. There are even kids across the street doing cartwheels in the road, a four lane highway.

I spent the morning reading the word and preparing for our devotional time at breakfast. I shared an article in Tabletalk Magazine about Life in the Light of the Cross, discussing how we need to “encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:13), and how that applies to prison ministry and our daily lives in interaction with everyone.

Pastor Watts arrived just on time at 1:00pm to take us to Pastor Alpha’s church for our second Leadership Conference but Morris was not to be found. Watts called him and, in typical African fashion, he said he was right around the corner and arrived almost an hour later. We explained the importance of punctuality and quickly departed to start the conference more than an hour late.

20-25 people were waiting for us when we arrived. They were singing praise songs and we got started as soon as we arrived. The speakers and topic were identical to the last conference and we finished about 5:30pm.

We told Pastor Morris he could bring 3 or 4 people to dinner with us so he grabbed five people and threw them in the truck (Watts, Alpha, Sonita, Bridgette and James). We ate at a small restaurant that I never would have considered walking into in the center of town but it was decent food, and very inexpensive (about $2 each). Everyone had Fanta for the first time this week and I was surprised that Dan stopped at 2 bottles. 🙂

Returning to the hotel after dinner we settled up with the hotel so we could leave in the morning after breakfast. The largest bills in Sierra Leone are 10,000 Leones, about U.S. $1.15. Paying for the hotel with one dollar bills is a ridiculously tedious process. The hotel staff needs to count each stack of filthy, grimy bills one-by-one. We finally called it a night and prepared to depart the next day.

April 4 – Magburaka and Mafanta Prisons

Breakfast was earlier than past days – 7:00am. Miriam and Fiona made the same sweetened oatmeal that we had a few days ago. All of the food has been wonderful. We are up early because we have to travel to two prisons. Nathan led our morning devotional on the meditation methods of the Puritans.

 

Everyone was ready to go at 8:00am and we waited a while for the pastors to arrive. They were here by 8:30am but we waited even longer while Al Hassan washed the 4Runner (so we could drive and get it dirty again). OK, now we’re ready to go. Oh, wait, the other vehicle that was here a few minutes ago is now gone… they went to get fuel. The other vehicle arrived with a full tank so we were ready to go. Oh, but wait, now the 4Runner needs fuel and it’s in the opposite direction of where we are going. I suppose it didn’t make sense to do that earlier. We left at 9:15am and arrived at the prison at 9:45.

Magburaka Correctional Center was right off the main road in town. We unloaded both vehicles and were granted permission to take photos with the humanitarian aid in front of the main gate. The Officer in Charge (OC) greeted us outside the gate and welcomed us into the receiving area (between the outside and inside steel doors). As usual, we had to leave our bags and all of our cameras with the guards. It was determined it was safer to leave them with the guards than in the vehicles. 

As we entered the prison yard I asked the Officer in Charge if we could meet with him before beginning our program. Nathan introduced the ministry and our team and explained why we were there and then led us all in a prayer for the OC. I explained to the OC about the T-Shirts that we brought for the inmates. 

Nathan and I visited the children at Echo Glen Juvenile Detention Center in Snoqualmie a couple weeks ago to assist them in a craft project. The youth were painting T-shirts and it had been arranged in advance that the T-shirts would go to the inmates in Sierra Leone. Nathan and I shared with the children (students) about the prisons in Africa. We told them about the conditions of the prisons and the health and life of the inmates. We explained to them that they often eat only one very insufficient meal each day, that they are often incarcerated and await trial for several years, and they wear the same clothes until someone comes to bring them some new clothes. We told them that the T-shirts they were painting may be the only new piece of clothing that the inmates have had in years.

I kindly explained to the OC that the children would love to see photographs of the inmates with their shirts. I assured him that the photos would never be seen by anyone other than the students at Echo Glen, our families and our friends. I assured him they would never be posted on the internet or available to the public. He willingly agreed on the condition that the inmates will hold the shirts in front of their faces so they would not be seen.

The 52 inmates were all called out of their cells and they gathered in the courtyard. There are no women in this prison. Nathan gave the IGL message and shared with them the purpose of our visit. Mark served as emcee and invited Nathan forward to give his testimony. Steve gave a short sermon on what it looks like to be a new creature in Christ. I gave the long message from Mark 10, the story of the Rich Young Ruler and led that into the Altar Call which was completed by Mark. 

The Chaplain took over the program at that point (very frustrating) and began assembling everyone to receive the humanitarian aid. After telling them about the gifts and distributing toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap to each inmate they were all lined up to receive the T-shirts. This is a high security prison where every inmate is convicted and serving his sentence. Therefore, they are required to wear uniforms in a color that designates the type of crime they are sentenced for – they are unable to wear the T-shirts. Our hope is that each of them will receive the shirt when they are released. 

Each man received a shirt and they all lined up with the shirts held up high, covering their faces, and we took some photos. The shirts were all gathered together and taken to the office to be distributed later. 

Everyone was sent back to the cell block and I walked past the barred hallway giving high-fives to each man. Many of these men were already believers and thanked us for coming. All inmates in every prison we visit are so encouraged to know that we remember them and bring them the gospel but also aid and supplies.

We all gathered under a tree outside the prison to make sandwiches and eat lunch before heading to Mafanta Prison. A lady with coconuts sat down behind us and placed her basket of coconuts on the ground next to where we were sitting. When purchased she would cut the top off so we could drink the water and then she would scoop out the meat for us to eat. I’m embarrassed to say that I forgot to buy a coconut for everyone before we left, as I had intended to do. As we drove away I saw the basket again but it was too late. I’m sure it would have been her biggest sale in a week, or perhaps the month. 

It was a short drive up a three-mile dirt road to reach Mafanta prison. We still had a lot of T-shirts with us so we took them along with the rest of the humanitarian aid (the same items we had distributed at the other two prisons. 

Mafanta is a Maximum Security Prison that houses inmates serving sentences exceeding five years. There are four cell block buildings (that I saw), each with four cells. I read the sign on the way in the door and it said there were 40 men in three of the cells and 38 in the fourth cell – a total of 238 inmates, all men.

After walking through security and receiving a pretty thorough pat-down (but they didn’t look in my bag of gifts and aid) we entered a large campus with a football field on our left and four separate buildings with four cells each. The typical chalkboard sign where we entered stated there were 40 inmates in cells 1, 2, and 3 and 38 inmates in cell #4. It appeared that this is the only one of the four cell block buildings being used at the moment.

The building was long and narrow with a hallway behind bars that extended the length of the building so all cells could empty into this hallway and the men could stand outside the cell behind bars. As we approached the cell block the men were mostly all out of their cells and lined up along the bars, which was made of welded-together rebar. I commented that nobody is going to be able to cut through that – it is a seriously secure structure of rebar squares.

I began our service by giving the IGL (International Group Leader) message, thanking the men for receiving us and introducing our ministry, including telling them about all of the places we have been, the prisoners we have seen, and sharing how we have seen so many lives changed by the gospel. I told them that they are not forgotten, we have come to see them and God certainly has not forgotten them. I told them that many people on the other side of the world are praying for them – that they are loved, both by us and by God, and that whether or not the people in their world are willing to forgive them, God promises forgiveness if they will repent of their sins and turn to Jesus.

Nathan then served as the emcee by introducing the rest of our team and telling them about our program. He then gave his testimony before inviting Steve to give the first message of the afternoon. It was sizzling hot, about 100 degrees and a bright shining sun, and we were all struggling with the heat.  

Steve did a great job telling them about how they can become a new creation in Christ. He can give them a clean heart and free them from the bondage of sin and guilt for what they have done and who they are. 

By the time Steve had finished most of us were sitting in the shade along the wall below the bars. We were seated directly in front of the “bathroom” and it smelled so bad I moved to the other side of the building and sat with a couple inmates that were freely moving around the yard (they must be trustees on good behavior). 

Dan then gave a great message about the prodigal son. After we finished the service a young inmate approached Dan with a tattered paperback Bible to tell Dan that that is his favorite portion of scripture and asked Dan to sign the page in his Bible. This man told us he had been in the prison for five years and was being released in seven days. 

Tom did the altar call. Many of the men and the officers remembered Tom from when he was there two years ago. I then offered a healing prayer for anyone that was suffering or ill or desired prayer. It was almost an unanimous response of men coming to the bars for prayer.

We were then blessed to be able to have the men come out of their cells so we could distribute the T-shirts from Echo Glen and take photographs.

The men were then put back into the cell block and allowed to once again exit one-by-one to receive a bar of soap, a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. After receiving their gifts they were filed into another cell block 30 yards away. This is the only effective and safe way to give them their gifts without causing a fight or a chaotic episode. If distributed to a group the men will always push and shove and try to get more than one, as would be expected. 

We returned to the Bridge of Hope compound and had a nightly debrief after dinner before retiring. We had to pack our bags for early departure Friday. The day was too long for me to stay up and blog. It was more important to call Susan and get some rest for another long day Friday. 

April 3, 2019 – Makeni Central Prison – Audit – Leadership Conference

Eggs for breakfast this morning, yummy. It was a small omelette with peppers but I don’t think there was any cheese. 

We met with the Chaplain and his direct supervisor when we arrived at Makeni Central Prison. The chaplain is a typical sized Sierra Leonean man, lean and standing proud. His supervisor is in charge of the Chaplaincy of all prisons in the northern region. He is a large man – well-fed and tall. He was seated in a chair on the porch outside his office dressed in a peach colored African-style gown. Initially I thought he was disabled and, therefore, seated. I later realized that he was able-bodied as he walked with us to the prison across the street. While seated he welcomed us in proper English and expressed his thanks for us being there. He relayed the rules of the prison and said that they applied to all prisons in his region of the country.

The prison officers carried all of our gifts and supplies to the front gate of the prison and assembled them for a team photo. We were prohibited from taking any other photos so the cameras were left in the car with all of our personal items. We entered a room inside the prison where several guards/officers received us. Six members of our American team, five or six members of the Sierra Leonean team and about eight officers made for a very cramped room. They inspected all of our supplies and aid patted us down thoroughly before allowing us to enter the prison. The OC was not there today so we bypassed our traditional meeting and presentation of gifts and moved directly into our crusade.

As we walked through the door we walked down a couple stairs into an outdoor hallway that led to a half-wall that overlooked the prison yard. Standing there waiting for us were about 150 inmates. As I waved to them they all became excited and began smiling. I have learned that people in Africa rarely smile at us and, actually, look very uninterested until we wave and smile at them. Once greeted their smiles grow big and they are very welcoming. This is the case when walking down the street, as well. Culturally they show little expression or emotion unless we engage with them.

We began our service with Nathan giving the IGL message and me serving as the Emcee. Steve gave his testimony and Mark and Dan presented sermons. When I gave the altar call about 1/3 of the hands were raised until the Chaplain got involved and told everyone to raise their hands. He clearly didn’t understand the point of what I was saying. Very often I think this is a matter of poor translation but we have a strong interpreter this time, Jeremiah Benson, so I’m pretty certain that was not the case. 

We had been told when we arrived that we had to stand in the hallway above the half-wall and we were not permitted to mingle among the inmates. It was sort of like a podium elevated above the inmates. It had been a perfect place to preach and speak to them. However, during our service the officers and the man in charge had called Nathan aside and told him that they had inventoried the medical supplies and they stated that these were the highest quality supplies they had ever received. They were overjoyed with all of the gifts and aid we had provided. I believe this is the reason they decided to invite us to distribute the aid to the inmates.

All of the inmates were called to enter one cell block and then the gifts were placed in the courtyard. We were then able to distribute them to the men as they came out of the cell block one-by-one and then lined up behind us in the courtyard. 

After giving each man a tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush and a bar of soap Mark addressed them all to tell them about the medical supplies and the soccer ball. It was a really good service and encouraging to everyone in attendance, including our team. The biggest frustration we had was the inability to conduct the service they way we have designed it – we will need to have a discussion with the Pastors and the Chaplain so they understand our expectations at the next prisons.

We returned to The Bridge of Hope compound, our home base, and conducted our audit with Pastor Micah. We were very pleased to learn how much he is doing for the body of Christ and for the prisoners in Sierra Leone. He is overseeing six pastors and churches and has organized an accountability group of pastors and an Advisory Council for the prison ministry. He told us that he meets with the other pastors weekly. They all work together to discuss sermon topics, they work together to develop a sermon for their Sunday service, and they each preach the same sermon in their churches. Monthly they also invite their wives and both groups break off together for prayer, fellowship and accountability. This is also an opportunity for the wives to hold their husbands accountable before the other pastors. 

Following the audit was our first leadership conference. Nathan introduced us and then Steve taught about Examples of Good and Bad Leaders from the Bible, I taught the Five Levels of Leadership and Tom taught a course on Discipleship. We had each spoken a little too long so Mark closed with a brief teaching on Leadership Principles. We finished a few minutes later than expected and distributed certificates to each of the leaders in attendance, about 20 men and women.

After dinner we had a short meeting to review the day and plan for Wednesday and we all retired to our rooms exhausted.

Quick Update

Sorry for no updates for two days. It’s been extremely busy. Here is a very quick update. I will post more details as soon as I can. It’s after 9:00pm Thursday. We have conducted our Prison Ministry conference and a Leadership Conference. We visited Makeni Central Prison yesterday. It was another long day today. Two prisons. Good services. Upper 90’s in the sun 🌞 We all got a little too much sun (except sunscreen Nathan) but only on our faces and it won’t be a problem. We are packed up to drive to Freetown tomorrow, leaving Makeni (our current location) at 5:30am. We have to purchase Bibles and then to a meeting with prison officials and the head Chaplain and then a prison service at the largest prison in the country. Lots of logistics have to come together properly (replacement rental car, new hotel, all meetings, admission into prison, etc.) Please pray that all will work as we have planned it. Proverbs 16:9

There is so much to tell. I will get it posted as soon as possible.