No-Wi-Fi-Long-Time (Coming Home)

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m glad that now that we are on our way home I can update you on our trip. I will break this up into several posts so I can add more as I write. There is much to tell…it was a great and successful trip. We visited thousands of inmates and saw many ushered into the Kingdom of God. We had great fellowship with the Malawian nationals and our team worked wonderfully together.  In summary we distributed over 128 Bibles, several thousand bars of soap, over 100 kg of sugar, 200kg of maize, plates for eating, and 80kg of rice and 8 soccer balls to the inmates. We saw conditions that made our hearts ache as well as men finding joy beyond description. This was my ninth overseas prison ministry campaign and each time I come I anticipate how much more the Lord will do through us when he sends us to the next corner of the world. What a gift He has given us to go to the remote places of the world where nobody else is going to tell of the greatest news we will ever know. We visited prisons that have never seen a foreigner and we shared the love of Jesus with many that had likely never heard the story of the love and forgiveness that is only available through repentance and faith in His name. All glory to God through Jesus Christ!

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Chichiri Prison

Chitipa Prison – Nov 11, 2015

Chitipa is a small town at the far north of Malawi just minutes from the borders of Tanzania and Zambia. It was a planned for this to be a five hour drive but we have to expect there will be obstacles. It was a beautiful drive through the vast countryside and up over the mountain pass. The country is stunningly beautiful with large mountain ranges and a beautiful valley where I stopped with my friends during my last Malawi visit to cross the river on a suspension bridge made of sticks bound together.

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As we came down the mountain pass, past the incredible views of Lake Malawi it was very hard for me to get my head around the fact that this is not the ocean. There are gorgeous sandy beaches and vegetation that feels like a tropical ocean setting. Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa and the eleventh in the world spanning 52 miles across and 365 miles long from north to south. We have traveled the entire length of the lake in the past few days.

At the bottom of the pass is the town of Chiweta which was crowded with people conducting business and selling their wares along the side of the road. I had purchased several bags of penny candy at the store and we periodically slowed down and tossed candy to the children. They shout “Mzungu” (which means white man) and when they realized what I had tossed to them they scramble to see how much of it they can grab for themselves. Knowing these children, from what I have been able to observe, I’m certain that if one child winds up with a lot of candy and others have none, it will be shared.

Our travel speed picked up dramatically now that we were on the flats of the lakeshore and we enjoyed a beautiful view on the way to Karonga, the town where we will be sleeping tonight and conducting our final prison crusade tomorrow, before embarking on the long drive south to our starting point of this trip, Lilongwe (in the central region). When we were about 15 km from Karonga our left front tire blew out. Sydon continued to drive even after the tire was completely shredded and I had to tell him to pull over before he destroys the wheel. My concern, also, was that the metal cords and other debris coming from the tire would puncture the left rear tire, leaving us stranded. We stopped and the nationals began immediately to change the tire and install the spare, which we thankfully had. 30 minutes later we were on the road to Karonga where, after hunting for about 20 minutes at several different “tyre fitment” shops, we found a place where they had a used tire that would work.

While the tire was replaced we went next door to pick us some cold drinks and cookies for the entire team. When the tire had been installed the guy that had changed the tire (with a pry bar and hammer) told Sydon it would be 18,000 Kwacha (MK) plus mounting. Sydon argued with him that if we buy the tire the fitment is included. This is common practice to ask for more money at the end of the transaction. This also happened yesterday in Malawi after we purchased four 50kg bags of corn for Mzuzu prison and the seller wanted us to pay for the bags.

We were on the road after about 45 minutes at the tyre “shop” and we headed to our hotel to unload our bags to make room for humanitarian aid. After quickly unloading into the hotel we headed to the market to buy two 50kg bags of sugar for the inmates to make porridge and 5 boxes of soap (360 bars for the approximately 150 men at Chitipa Prison). It was now about 1:15pm, 15 minutes later than our scheduled arrival time at the prison, and we still have a long drive ahead of us. We had been told it was about a one hour drive from Karonga to Chitipa but, after driving over a long and beautiful mountain pass, we arrived two hours later.

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Chitipa prison is a small prison, about 50 yards square, located in the middle of a neighborhood. We drove right past it trying to find the entrance and stopped to ask directions from some ladies that were gathered with many children at the community well, retrieving their water for the evening.

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When we came to the entrance gate I saw that they had repainted it, no longer did it read “Malawi Prisons Service Chitipa” as it had my last time here. The brick walls at surrounding the prison are roughly 7 feet high and have no barbed wire – the men know better that to try to escape as they won’t get far without being caught and they may be shot if seen trying to escape. The officers greeted Dyghton and opened the gate so we could drive the ministry van inside with our humanitarian aid. We drove past a covered gazebo area and parked next to the well where some men were drawing water and a few others were busy making some tools by carving wood for handles. They must make their own tools here as there is no government funding for anything more than basic rations of food for the inmates. The axe that was being used to carve the handle would never be allowed inside a U.S. prison, it was quite a weapon.

The officers called all the men from the courtyard and gathered them together under and near the gazebo, under a large shade tree, so they could all be present for our program. Almost all of the men here have issued white uniforms, only a couple had their civilian clothes on. The women were also gathered in an area to the left of the men. As they gathered we were escorted to the OC’s office. This was the officer I had met at Rhumpi three years earlier. He remembered me and thanked us for coming back. We presented our gifts to the officer and then proceeded to the courtyard for the service.

Chitipa Prison
Chitipa Prison

Nathan served as emcee today so, after Greg gave the President’s message and introduced the team, he greeted the inmates and introduced me to give my testimony. Dyghton then gave the short sermon and really engaged the inmates. He is fairly well-known around Malawi because of his music. Platwell shared the long sermon in his native language of Chichewa, which was much better as he clearly was much more comfortable and able to speak from his heart without having to struggle with the words to say. Charles, once again, did a great job translating. Greg gave the altar call followed by Sydon offering a prayer for those who were ill and Scott prayed for the inmate church leaders and presented the gifts of soap and sugar, as well as Bibles and a soccer ball. Because of the smaller size of the prison and the amount of money remaining in our budget for humanitarian aid we were able to provide a greater abundance of gifts per capita than the previous six prisons.

The men and women at Chitipa do not get visitors. Sydon and Dyghton have not been to this prison since I was there last time. We found the record of my visit in the guest book only a couple pages back from where I signed it this time. This is only the second time anyone from a foreign country has been to Chitipa Prison, the first time was my visit in 2012. This truly is a rare blessing for these men.

The Officer in Charge thanked us for visiting and then a choir from within the church sang some praises and danced for us. They were led by a man with one arm and one leg who danced with great passion. What a great close to a great visit. The OC had given me permission to take photographs today so I was able to take video of much of the service and the entire song.

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An inmate then came forward that was one of the very few that were here during my previous visit. He said that we had promised to return with new pots for cooking and he thanked us for bringing the gifts that we did come with. (We have to be very careful when discussing needs with the nationals on any campaign, wherever we go, because they often expect that when they tell us they need something that we are going to bring it when we return and they consider it a promise, even if it is simply them asking for it – that was the case in this instance).

We returned to the O.C.’s office where he told us of the needs of the prison, the need for blankets, and for mosquito nets since they are having trouble with Malaria, especially for the women (of which there were four in custody today). He told us the government provides very little money for the prisons so they have nothing more than basic rations.

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He then took us for a walk around the prison grounds, showing us the library, the “kitchen” and one of the cells. When we came out of the cell the men were seated in rows outside their cells. We then toured the toilets and showers and the area where they store rations and other supplies. He allowed us to take as many photos as we needed and I was able to get a lot of video footage of the prison. When we came back out to the courtyard the men were filing into their cells (3 cells for the 168 inmates). They took their shoes off and left them outside before entering their cells. There were then a few inmates that were padlocking the cell doors after the cells were full and then they went into their cells and the final door was locked by one of the officers. It is 5:00pm and the men will now be in the cells until sunlight, about 6:00 tomorrow morning. The inmates are out of their cells for 11 hours each day.

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We arrived very late back to the hotel in Karonga, and we were driving long after dark through the mountains, rule number one on the mission field – Don’t drive at night. There are very few cars on the road in Africa at night because of the dangers that exist – not of theft or crimes of man, but animals and people on the road and treacherous roads that have no lighting. It was a very hot day and we were all very tired. The rooms were hot and not well ventilated and we are close to the lake so the humidity is also quite high. This did not prevent any of us from getting a solid night’s sleep, however. Although this was a very long day and a very difficult drive Greg reminded the team that this is why we do this, we are a ministry that goes where no one else is going.

Our rooms tonight are very basic. It is quite warm today, and humid, so we can be assured it will not be a comfortable night. We have much travel tomorrow so Greg and I set some solid time deadlines with our Malawian team to insure we will be out of town on time tomorrow.

Mzuzu Prison – 11/10/15

Mzuzu Prison is only a couple miles from the hotel. Up to this point all prisons we have visited have been new to all of us. From this point on, however, we will be visiting institutions I entered in 2012. Mzuzu currently houses 555 inmates, 21 of them female and two children (with their mothers). There have been some structural improvements in the past few years, most noticeably two covered areas – one where most of the inmates were gathered and one where we were seated.

Mzuzu Kitchen
Mzuzu Kitchen

Dyghton had borrowed a PA system so he opened our service by playing a couple of his songs and leading the inmates in some dancing. One song, Enough is Enough, is from his new album that he is about to release. He will now have three albums and DVDs.

 

The female Discipline Officer, Eunice, introduced us. She thanked us for returning and told us that they have some challenges and we can talk about them later behind closed doors. Another woman was present that had been invited by Sydon and Dyghton. She prayed and then we began our service.

 

Greg gave the IGL message and his testimony, and I served as Emcee. Nathan gave a short sermon telling them that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and sharing the story of Jesus calming the storm. We asked Sydon to give the long sermon since this is his home prison that he visits most often. He had been falsely accused of possessing a stolen vehicle and spent about a month in this prison. It was at this time that he surrendered his life to Christ and, subsequently, felt called to serve in prison ministry.

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Unfortunately we did not have time to visit the women because after the prison service we were expected at the church to teach our conference. We returned to the hotel briefly to prepare and have a bite of snacks. Dyghton was on African time today and showed up to pick us up about 45 minutes late. He told us there had been another lunch meeting that was being attended by most of those who were going to be at our conference. We had a discussion about the importance of PFC servants to be on time. We explained that regardless of the customs of the area and the schedules of others we are always on time, even if it means we are the only people there.

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We stopped at the bank to exchange money and then arrived at the church to find a full house eager to learn and meet with us. The conference went very well. Greg, when teaching of “Why we do Prison Ministry” explained that a prison is a hospital full of spiritually sick people and a university where people can grow in their faith. He explained that they have a mission field right here in Malawi and the pulpit is wide open. Each of our team members did a great job presenting their materials and a very large percentage of the attendees committed to become involved in prison ministry.

 

We retired to our hotel exhausted. This is the first time we have done both a prison service and taught a conference in the same day. This has been a very busy trip, and very effective. We have had no obstacles – we have entered every prison we planned to visit and we have taught two conferences. We have been welcomed everywhere we have gone and have been blessed in everything we have done.

Nkhotakota Prison – 11/9/15 Monday

We left Red Zebra Lodge early, after eating breakfast at 7:00am. We were told it will take about an hour to get to Nkhotakota and we will need to purchase more humanitarian aid before our crusade, scheduled for 11:00am. If I have learned one thing on these trips it is how to estimate time, so I knew we had to leave early.

Red Zebra Lodge
Red Zebra Lodge

Just after driving through Salima we met Sydon and Dyghton. They had returned to Mzuzu for a couple days and met us here with another van. They had assured us it would be the same size as our current van but, no surprise to us, it was considerably smaller. After some creative packing we loaded our bags into the new van and paid our driver of the past five days, Rionard, and piled into the new van for our three-hour journey to Nkhotakota.

 

The Station Officer, Peterkins Nsini, was a man I had met three years earlier at Mzimba Prison. The OC, MacDonald Sitima, was not present so Peterkins welcomed us and then introduced us to the Chaplain, Pharaoh Nyirenda. As he walked us to the prison gate he told us that we were the first white men to ever set foot in Nkhotakota Prison, an institution with 416 men and 5 female inmates.

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The brick walls surrounded a cobblestone courtyard surrounded by four cells – each roughly 15’ x 20’, a ‘recreation’ building where some of the inmates were participating in some other program, and a covered open-air kitchen in the center. The other side of the coutyard appeared to house the toilets and showers, although we didn’t get the opportunity to look around.

 

While Greg was giving his sermon about the man with an unclean spirit (Mark 5) I witnessed a man fall over backwards out of one of the cells. Several inmates moved out of the way and left him lying there, halfway in and halfway out of the doorway, with his head lying on the concrete stairs, motionless. I watched him for a few seconds and feared he had just died. When I saw his hands move I grabbed Sydon and asked him to come with me.

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We walked through the crowd of men and lifted him back into his cell. I was unsure if he was injured if this was a spiritual attack until I started praying for him. He suddenly began hollering out some noises and jerking about, at which time it became evident what we were facing. I prayed, along with Sydon, that the man would be cleansed of whatever was tormenting him and he soon stopped hollering and became calm. The other men in the cell were overwhelmed with fear while this was happening but, after the man calmed down and we prayed over him that God would cleanse him and bring him to faith in Jesus, the men came around and helped us to lay him out more comfortably on a blanket. Greg came to the cell to see what was happening and we continued to pray for him. Greg later mentioned to me that each time he has faced a demon-possession it was when he was preaching out of Mark 5.

 

During the time I was praying over this man I had a measure of doubt regarding what was happening. Although I was certain this man was being tormented by a demon I had questions arising in my mind such as “perhaps he’s convulsing from being injured by his fall”. My prayer was “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”. I later read the story in Mark chapter 9 of the father that cried out the same way to Jesus and I realized the context was exactly the same as this situation. I praise God for the power of his Word and the truth found therein.

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The rest of the men were still gathered in the courtyard and Scott presented the gifts of soap, Bibles and a soccer ball. The men were all seated on the cobblestone ground and, after taking some symbolic photos; we distributed soap to each man, leaving behind another box for the men that weren’t present during the service.

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After another 4 ½ hour drive to Mzuzu we arrived at the hotel in the center of town. This was a very nice and new motel. Nathan and I were sharing a room but there were not enough rooms reserved for the rest of the team. I renegotiated the room rates and moved Greg and Scott into smaller rooms and got two more rooms for Platwell and Charles. We immediately ordered dinner so we could get to bed at a decent hour. Tomorrow is a busy day with a prison service and a conference.

 

Sydon then left to get Samuel and Naulen, pastors from Tanzania that Greg had invited to attend the conference in Mzuzu. They were very excited to meet us and we talked for a few minutes before they left to get settled into their hotels.

 

Another evening of waiting over two hours for dinner – We won’t be eating at a hotel again. Bedtime came late once again but, other than the strong smell of smoke from the fire being burnt at the building behind us, our rooms were very comfortable and everyone was able to get good rest once again.

Domasi Prison – 11/8/15 Sunday

Another early morning is upon us as we are attending church at 7:30am and then holding our next prison service at 11:00am at Domasi Prison. We will then drive about four hours to Salima where we will stay the night and have another prison service Monday morning before driving another five or six hours to Mzuzu.

 

We arrived at Platwell’s home church for the English service at 7:30am. The sign on the front lawn says that the English service is from 7:30-9:00 and the Chichewa service is from 8:30-10:00am. I’m not sure how the time from 8:30-9:00am works since the services apparently overlap. I guess we’ll find out.

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Worship began as soon as we arrived. After about 15 minutes and a couple songs the congregation began singing “Marching, marching, marching for our God. Marching, marching, to set the prisoners free” as we proceeded to march around the sanctuary about ten times, wondering when we were going to stop marching.

 

After a few more songs we did some public scripture readings and then a lady went to the podium dressed in a scout type uniform. It turns out this is Royal Rangers Day. Once per year the children that participate in Royal Rangers do a presentation in which they sing and present their scripture memory verses and parade their flags. It was great to see so many kids participating so wholeheartedly.

 

About an hour into the service I was asked to come to the Senior Pastor’s office. There I met Pastor MacDonald Chiudza Banda. He welcomed us and was interested to learn about our ministry. He told us that if we had come by 8:00am we could have gone to Zomba Prison with a team that serves there on Sundays. Unfortunately he had not known that we were there at 7:30am – we could have visited one more prison. As it was we were declined entrance to that prison because there was already another program going on there this day, unfortunately this was the team that we could have joined had they known we were in town. All in God’s timing, however, as we have an 11:00am scheduled visit at Domasi Prison and there may have been too much overlap to be able to serve in both prisons.

 

Before leaving the church Pastor MacDonald asked me to come forward and speak briefly. I addressed the church and encouraged them of the need to remember the inmates and to consider all the different ways they could become involved in prison ministry. I asked them to support pastor Platwell and to contact him for more information and to pray about how they may be able to assist him in taking the gospel into the prisons around Zomba and southern Malawi.

 

Next stop: Domasi Prison. Our scheduled visit time of 11:00am came and went. When we arrived at 11:15am we were told we were late and would not be able to go in. Platwell worked with the gate officer for about 15 minutes trying to get clearance and pleaded with them to let us enter. At 11:35 we were turned away, being told there was another group from Australia scheduled to arrive at noon and be there for the entire afternoon. When all hope seemed lost we all piled back into the van and began to leave. I can only speak for myself but I will admit that, although I was praying that God would work a miracle, it didn’t seem likely because the van was running and we were driving away. Suddenly the gate officer stopped us and told us we could go in. We were told the Australians could wait until we were finished.

Lord, I know why we are here…for the sole purpose of proclaiming your glorious Gospel. Why would I have doubted even for a moment that you would overcome this little obstacle. Lord, help me with my doubt.

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We pulled the van through the gate and drove up to the base of the staircase leading to the prison entry door. Several inmates came out and unloaded the van of the soap and Bibles.

 

The Officer in Charge was not on premises this Sunday so we waited outside while the staff arranged for our visit. About 10 minutes later we entered the prison grounds where 322 male inmates were gathered around the courtyard, mostly under the shade, with some in the center of the courtyard facing the gazebo area where there were some benches set up for us. It was clear who the remandees were as they were in civilian clothes. The seven female inmates at this institution (three convicted and four remandees) were not present for our service. The men stared at us as we walked in, a feeling I was very uncomfortable with during my first few overseas prison campaigns. I have learned, however, that if I wave and smile (almost like a celebrity entering an auditorium) they al smile and wave back.

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Domasi Prison

As Greg gave the President’s message I asked the Chaplain and Senior Officer if we could take photographs. After promising that they would not be publicly posted he agreed and, since I was not preaching today, I was able to spend the entire service taking photos.

 

Platwell shared his personal testimony followed by Scott and Nathan giving powerful sermons. After I made a call for those that had surrendered to Christ to come forward to the ‘altar’ Greg offered a healing prayer followed by Nathan praying for the inmate church leaders. Greg then presented the gifts to the inmates, of which was 10 Bibles, a soccer ball, and one bar of soap for each inmate. After Greg taught them our special handshake the officers had all of the men line up and we distributed the soap to each man individually. They were all very orderly and only a few men tried to make their way back into the line to get a second bar of soap, to which the other inmates policed them out of the line.

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Nathan’s Sermon

With a long drive still ahead of us we left after distributing the soap and headed to the van. Greg, Nathan and I took a few moments to take some photos with the Chaplain and assured him that we hoped to be able to return again one day. We praised God as we drove away, rejoicing in his faithfulness toward us, and being mindful of the many angels that were rejoicing in heaven because of the dozens of souls that God had saved this afternoon. And to think we almost drove away a couple hours earlier.

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The drive to Salima was long and hot. We pulled into town about 5:00pm and stopped at the Half London Hotel. I suppose it may have been called “Half” London because in London there would likely be electricity and water. Even though the rooms were only about $10 U.S. I quickly decided we would need to find some better accommodations. Since Salima is the first town we had visited on Lake Malawi I suggested we find a hotel on the water. I didn’t expect us to have to drive 30 minutes to get there. We finally arrived at the Red Zebra Lodge around 5:45pm. They had room for all of us and, although the rooms were more expensive than I would have liked ($28 per person) we unloaded our bags and settled in. There was just enough daylight left to get a few photos before ordering dinner. We were told it would be 30-40 minutes before the food was ready so all went to our rooms to shower. Two and a half hours later our food arrived and we finished eating around 9:00pm.

 

This was the most humid area we have visited and it was still quite hot, making the evening very uncomfortable. Nonetheless we were all very tired so we slept well.

Chichiri Prison – 11/7/15 Saturday

11/7/15 – Saturday – Travel to Blantyre

 

There was no water at the hotel this morning. Fortunately I showered last night as today was rather warm. We left the hotel at 6:00am and stopped for fuel and a breakfast-on-the-go at a Puma filling station. We have two vehicles with us today because Samuel and Barry are joining us at the prison. They attended our training conference yesterday but wanted to see first-hand how we conduct a prison service. We gave them some of our service logistic sheets last night so they would understand the program and the order of the service but they want to be present with us.

 

As we drove south we passed through Desda Township, “home of micro loans” the sign at the entrance of the town said. A few miles later we came to a very busy open-air market with all types of foods and items for sale on both sides of the highway. There were thousands of people there. Platwell told us that the market is open every Wednesday and Saturday. It turns out (we were not aware as we drove through the market) that the highway was the national border so the market on the right side of the road was in Mozambique and on the left was in Malawi.

 

Shortly later we crossed a bridge over the Shire River, the only outlet of Lake Malawi. Platwell explained that there was severe flooding last year in the south of the country downriver from here. There was a massive loss of homes and lives and livestock.

Chichiri Prison Gate
Chichiri Prison Gate

The drive to Blantyre was about 5 hours. We purchased another 40 boxes of soap for humanitarian aid at Chichiri Prison, an institution of about 3,000 inmates. We arrived at the prison around 12:15pm. A group of about 40 Seventh Day Adventist Youth (AY) was already there and was holding a program in the church. They came out of the prison as we arrived at the grounds and they were waiting to re-enter after the inmates finished their lunch. About 20 minutes later we were invited into the prison where we met with the General Duties Officer, Mr. Elliot Chagwa. The clearance paperwork had not been forwarded from Kachere Prison so we had to wait while he made phone calls to get our clearance. This is a teaching moment for Platwell, he will need to make multiple copies of the permission papers and have them all notarized by the Prisons office so he will have a separate paper for each prison. We don’t want to be denied permission due to a clerical delay.

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The prison chaplain, Damiano Panuel, was a young man in his twenties. He explained that this prison has many different volunteers that come for weekly visits. He told us that there are some that come to teach the inmate church leaders to preach, teach and deal with different issues that arise in the prison. The inmates are usually taught by their church leaders in their cells but many have differing theological beliefs so they alternate the teachers/leaders between the cells so the inmates can learn from different viewpoints. This includes many different faiths.

Chichiri Head Count
Chichiri Head Count

There are currently 1,792 inmates in Chichiri Prison. the chalkboard at the entrance reads:

Male Remand – 289 – These are men that are charged but not yet convicted

Male Remand Murder – 218 – Those charged with murder but not yet convicted

Female Reman – 6

Female Reman Murder – 6

Male Hard Labor – 1232 – These are men that have been convicted and are serving their sentences

Female Hard Labor – 19

They also keep count of foreigners. They have no Europeans or Asians but there are 15 foreigners (most likely Ethiopian refugees), two children (with their mothers) and 5 inmates currently at the hospital.

We were granted entrance and told that since the Seventh Day Adventists are already holding a program in the courtyard with the general prison population we would be allowed to hold our service in the Chapel. They made an announcement to the inmates and when we arrived at the chapel there were approximately 120 inmates waiting for us. One of the inmate church leaders began leading everyone in worship and by the time they had finished 3 songs there were roughly 200 men in the chapel. Many were singing and worshipping and many were not.

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Chaplain with gifts

I opened our service with the IGL message, introducing our ministry and telling them why we are here and where we have been. Also telling them that the God that loves the inmate in Russia and in Honduras and in India, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Ghana, Burkina Faso…..(all countries we have visited) and he also loves the inmate in Malawi. I then introduced Greg who served as emcee and introduced our team and our first speaker, Platwell, who gave his testimony in the native language of Chichewa. Platwell also served as our translator throughout the service.

 

As they were speaking I asked the Chaplain if I would be able to take photographs, which he said would be fine. We were not allowed any photos of the general population.

 

Greg then introduced Scott, who gave a short sermon, followed by Nathan who did a great job teaching the inmates about Lazarus when Jesus called him forward from the tomb. He explained that we, like Lazarus, are dead prior to coming to faith in Jesus. We are without hope, dead in our sins, but Jesus calls us from the tomb and gives us new life. I loved the way he pulled the story together to be bad news and good news – I will be sure to get his notes for my own use in the future. I continued the service with an altar call and about 20 men came forward, followed closely behind by about 20 more. Platwell prayed for the ill and Greg prayed for the inmate church leaders. After Scott presented the gifts of 2,000 bars of soap, 20 Bibles and a soccer ball we concluded our service and shook hands with the inmates on our way out of the prison. The Chaplain was encouraged and very thankful that we came. I am confident he will work in ongoing discipleship of these men that were made alive in Christ today.

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I reflected later at dinner and in my evening prayers what an amazing honor it is to be witness to such an incredible work of God. To see men born again and a new life in Christ beginning before our eyes. It causes me to remember the day I came to Christ and the joy I felt, and the life I have been blessed to live since that day. I would not be serving in this ministry if a pastor hadn’t told me about the wages of sin and the free gift of God in Jesus Christ. At times I find that I can leave a prison overwhelmed by all that I have just seen and I can lose sight of the amazing work that has just taken place and the changed lives within the prison walls, lives that will never be the same. What a privilege to be part of God’s work in the prisons around the world.

Pastors Samuel and Barry
Pastors Samuel and Barry

We drove to Zomba after the service and we were fortunate that it was on the way for Samuel and Barry, so Greg and Scott were able to ride with them, along with several of our bags. They dropped us at the hotel in Zomba, which was built in 1886, and before they left I gave them a bunch of clothes. I cleaned out my closet of clothes I no longer wear and brought them with me to give away to pastors and anyone else that can use them. I gave him several dress shirts and a couple pairs of slacks. He said “Oh, brother, you don’t know how much you have done for a pastor from Zambia”. I’m so thankful I could bless him. He told me he wants me to come to Zambia someday and spend a day with him. We laughed and I told him it’s a long way to come for a day.

 

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Platwell, Nate and Charles

Tomorrow afternoon is going to be a crowded drive to Salima with all of us and our bags and humanitarian aid for the next prison. We have a lot of ministry ahead of us and we are all excited and in great spirits. I told Nathan this afternoon that I know we have a lot of people praying for us back home because everything is going so smoothly.

 

We had a great dinner in Platwell’s home town of Zomba and returned to the hotel around 7:30pm. Tomorrow will be an early morning and another long day. It’s hard to believe we are only on our fourth day of ministry – it seems like we’ve been here a lot longer (it always does).

 

After a one hour evening nap (I couldn’t keep my eyes open) I went to the lobby to try for a wi-fi signal. I was successful connecting to their network but the hotel internet appears to be down. I continue to be hopeful that the internet situation will get better on these trips, and at times it is, but we have a long way to go. I sure do wish I could keep everyone at home updated more often and communicate more easily with my family. It must have been tremendously burdensome for the missionaries of yesteryear before the days of telephones. Despite the slow progress of technology in this area of the world we certainly are blessed no matter where we are in the world.

Chichiri Prison and a Lot of Travel

There was no water at the hotel this morning. Fortunately I showered last night as today was rather warm. We left the hotel at 6:00am and stopped for fuel and a breakfast-on-the-go at a Puma filling station. We have two vehicles with us today because Samuel and Barry are joining us at the prison. They have now attended our training conference but wanted to see first-hand how we conduct a prison service. We gave them some of our service sheets last night so they would understand the program and the order of the service but they want to be present with us.

We passed through Desda Township, “home of micro loans” the sign at the entrance of the town said. A few miles later we came to a very busy open air market with all types of foods and items for sale on both sides of the highway. There were thousands of people there. Platwell told us that the market is open every Wednesday and Saturday. It turns out (we were not aware as we drove through the market) that the highway was the national border so the market on the right side of the road was in Mozambique and on the left was in Malawi.

Shortly later we crossed a bridge over the Shire River, the only outlet of Lake Malawi. Platwell explained that there was severe flooding last year in the south of the country downriver from here. There was a massive loss of homes and lives and livestock.

The drive to Blantyre was about 5 hours. We purchased another 40 boxes of soap for humanitarian aid at Chichiri Prison, an institution of about 3,000 inmates. We arrived at the prison around 12:15pm. A group of about 40 Seventh Day Adventist Youth (AY) that were holding a program in the church. They came out of the prison as we arrived at the grounds and they were waiting to re-enter after the inmates finished their lunch. About 20 minutes later we were invited into the prison where we met with the General Duties Officer, Mr. Elliot Chagwa. The clearance paperwork had not been forwarded from Kachere Prison so we had to wait while he made phone calls to get our clearance. This is a teaching moment for Platwell, he will need to make multiple copies of the permission papers and have them all notarized by the Prisons office so he will have a separate paper for each prison. We don’t want to be denied permission due to a clerical delay.

The prison chaplain, Damiano Panuel, was a young man in his twenties. He explained that this prison has many different volunteers that come for weekly visits. He told us that there are some that come to teach the inmate church leaders to preach, teach and deal with different issues that arise in the prison. The inmates are usually taught by their church leaders in their cells but many have differing theological beliefs so they alternate the teachers/leaders between the cells so the inmates can learn from different viewpoints. This includes many different faiths.

Chichiri Head Count
Chichiri Head Count

The chalkboard at the entrance reads:

Male Reman –  – These are men that are charged but not yet convicted

Male Reman Murder –  – Those charged with murder but not yet convicted

Female Reman – 6

Female Reman Murder – 6

Male Hard Labor –  – These are men that have been convicted and are serving their sentences

Female Hard Labor –

I will get these numbers when I have a chance to review my photographs. Stay tuned.

We were granted entrance and told that since the Seventh Day Adventists are already holding a program in the courtyard with the general prison population we would be allowed to hold our service in the Chapel. They made an announcement to the inmates and when we arrived at the chapel there were approximately 120 inmates waiting for us. One of the inmate church leaders began leading everyone in worship and by the time they had finished 3 songs there were roughly 200 men in the chapel. Many were singing and worshipping and many were not.

 

I opened our service with the IGL message, introducing our ministry and telling them why we are here and where we have been. Also telling them that the God that loves the inmate in Russia and in Honduras and in India, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Ghana, Burkina Faso…..(all countries we have visited) also loves the inmate in Malawi. I then introduced Greg who served as emcee and introduced our team and our first speaker, Platwell, who gave his testimony in the native language of Chewa. Platwell also served as our translator throughout the service.

As they were speaking I asked the Chaplain if I would be able to take photographs, which he said would be fine. I was also able to take some photos of the head-count board and the entrance to the prison. We were not allowed any photos of the general population.

Greg then introduced Scott, who gave a short sermon, followed by Nathan who did a great job teaching the inmates about Lazarus when Jesus called him forward from the tomb. He explained that we, like Lazarus, are dead prior to coming to faith in Jesus. We are without hope, dead in our sins, but Jesus calls us from the tomb and gives us new life. I loved the way he pulled the story together to be bad news and good news – I will be sure to get his notes for my own use in the future. I continued the service with an altar call and about 20 men came forward, followed closely behind by about 20 more. Platwell prayed for the ill and Greg prayed for the inmate church leaders. After Scott presented the gifts of 2,000 bars of soap, 20 Bibles and a soccer ball we concluded our service and shook hands with the inmates on our way out of the prison. The Chaplain was encouraged and very thankful that we came. I am confident he will work in ongoing discipleship of these men that were made alive in Christ today.

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I reflected later at dinner and in my evening prayers what an amazing honor it is to be witness to such an incredible work of God. To see men born again and a new life in Christ beginning before our eyes. It causes me to remember the day I came to Christ and the joy I felt, and the life I have been blessed to live since that day. I would not be serving in this ministry if a pastor hadn’t told me about the wages of sin and the free gift of God in Jesus Christ. At times I find that I can leave a prison overwhelmed by all that I have just seen and I can lose sight of the amazing work that has just taken place and the changed lives within the prison walls, lives that will never be the same. What a privilege to be part of God’s work in the prisons around the world.

We drove to Zomba after the service and we were fortunate that it was on the way for Samuel and Barry, so Greg and Scott were able to ride with them, along with several of our bags. They dropped us at the hotel in Zomba, which was built in 1886, and before they left I gave them a bunch of clothes. I cleaned out my closet of clothes I no longer wear and brought them with me to give away to pastors and anyone else that can use them. I gave him several dress shirts and a couple pairs of slacks. He said “Oh, brother, you don’t know how much you have done for a pastor from Zambia”. I’m so thankful I could bless him.

Tomorrow afternoon is going to be a crowded drive to Salima with all of us and our bags and humanitarian aid for the next prison. We will be attending church at 7:30am and then holding our next prison service at 11:00am at Domasi Prison. We will then drive about four hours to Salima where we will stay the night and have another prison service Monday morning before driving another five or six hours to Mzuzu. We have a lot of ministry ahead of us and we are all excited and in great spirits. I told Nathan this afternoon that I know we have a lot of people praying for us back home because everything is going so smoothly.

We had a great dinner in Platwell’s home town and returned to the hotel around 7:30pm. Tomorrow will be an early morning and another long day. It’s hard to believe we are only on our fourth day of ministry – it seems like we’ve been here a lot longer (it always does).

After a one hour evening nap (I couldn’t keep my eyes open) I went to the lobby to try for a wi-fi signal. I was successful connecting to their network but the hotel internet appears to be down. I continue to be hopeful that the internet situation will get better on these trips, and at times it is, but we have a long way to go. I sure do wish I could keep everyone at home updated more often and communicate more easily with my family. It must have been tremendously burdensome for the missionaries of yesteryear before the days of telephones. Despite the slow progress of technology in this area of the world we certainly are blessed no matter where we are in the world.