Dan stayed home this morning. Unfortunately he is still fighting some intestinal issues which I am afraid I am one day behind him. I am hopeful that I will be able to join the team when we meet with the government officials tomorrow.
We arrived at Monatele Prison at 9:15am this morning, after a 2 hour drive, and waited about 45 minutes to enter. It was a baking hot morning so we waited under the gazebo outside the prison.
Von was invited inside to the infirmary to present all of the medical supplies and explain what each one was for.
The inmates and prison staff took all of our humanitarian aid and gifts into the prison and then brought us through security, taking our passports and reviewing our documents.
As we entered the prison there were about 250 of the 388 inmates in the 60’ x 120’ courtyard. The men were seated all around the courtyard and there were about a dozen women under the gazebo, separated from most of the men. There were not enough benches for everyone so half of the men were standing behind the seated men. It was a full house.
When we walked through the door and stood at the top of the stairs we waved to all of the men they had big grins on their faces. We felt very welcomed. We walked down the five stairs and to the left side of the courtyard where chairs and a table were set up for us. It was evident that while we were waiting outside they were working to set everything up inside for us so we could have a nice program.
The officer in charge (he was second in command since the head officer was not there today) stood to welcome us. He told us he was glad we were there and he assured us that all of the inmates would be under good behavior. I’m sure this was his way of telling them to behave themselves but I felt that they were a very well behaved group, anyway.
Pastor Dona stood for a brief introduction and then introduced me to give the International group leader message.
I introduced our ministry and told all of the inmates why we were there. I told them that we are here because we love them. We are here because God showed us his love and gave us a love for others. When he showed us how much he loved us he opened our eyes to see how much he loves everyone, and he gave us a love for them, as well. I told them that although we have never met them we love them. “You may think you have been forgotten but we have not forgotten you and God has not forgotten you.” I told them that we are here because we have been sent by people at home that also love them and are praying for them. I told them that people often ask me if I get scared going in the prisons and I told them that “I never get scared because I know that all of you are just like me. We have different colored skin and we grew up in different parts of the world but I have the same hopes and desires that you do. I want to be known and understood and loved, just like you.”
Mark then served as emcee, introducing our team. He told them a little bit more about our ministry, explained our program for today, and then introduced Pastor Ives who gave a fabulous message about the woman caught in adultery, how Jesus forgave her and told her to “go and sin no more”.
Mark then did a segway as the MC and then introduced me to give my testimony. I did something I’ve never tried before-I walked to the top of the stairs so that all the men and women could see me and I sat down and quietly, since I had a microphone, told them my life story.
I told them that I had grown up as a happy little boy but that my parents divorced when I was five. I told them that my father left my mother and moved out of the house. I didn’t realize how much that impacted me until later in my life. I told them that I had a mother who loved me dearly and I always knew how deeply I was loved. My father also continued to be a major part of our life and we saw him every week and we knew that he loved us, too. However, I said, my parents had very different values. My mom was a Christian and, although I never had a solid grasp of the Bible, she taught me Biblical values. I knew right from wrong and I thank my Mom for that.
I told them that my father, on the other hand, did not believe in God and he believed that we just had to try to be the best people that we can and not hurt others. I told him that most of the world feels that way. So I grew up with differing values from my parents.
I saw my father go through several girlfriends over the years and he even remarried and divorced again while I was still a teenager. I told them that I started drinking at the age of 12 and started smoking and doing drugs at the same age. I started rebelling against my mother, the woman who love me more than anybody in the world, and made her life miserable. I told them that I liked being at my father’s house more because I could do pretty much anything I wanted. All this time I considered myself to be a pretty good person.
I told them that at the end of my senior year I met a girl and started dating her and, after doing some rather tragic things, we married and had two daughters. When my children were young I did the same thing my father had done-I divorced my wife. I left her alone.
I told them that I continued to party and chase after the world but all this time I knew that what I was doing was wrong. My entire life I had been living against what I knew in my heart to be right.
I knew there was a God but I didn’t know about him. I knew he was there and I knew I was doing wrong and I knew I had to get right with him. I picked up the Bible and started to read it but it didn’t make sense to me because the Bible explains that, unless God opens your eyes to understand it, you can’t understand the deep truths within it.
I told them that I went to church and on the second Sunday the pastor preached what I needed to hear. He helped me to understand that my sin was what was making my life miserable and made me empty. It had separated me from God. The God that made me and loved me more than anyone or anything ever could had given me life and I had rejected him by chasing after my own worldly passions and lusts. He explained to me that what I truly deserved was God‘s justice, condemnation to hell.
When I heard this I was cut to the heart and felt in complete despair because there was no hope in that condemnation.
Throughout this testimony I kept looking at the men and women and asking if they felt the same way.
I asked them if they feel in despair, without hope, empty, lost. I told them that that is when the pastor said what I needed to hear. He explained to me how Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God who did not deserve death, offered up his perfect life to take upon himself the wrath of God that I deserved. He explained to me that only through repentance and trust in Jesus Christ could I be saved and set free. I told them that at the moment I believed every burden was lifted and I was set free.
“Even while you are here in this prison you can be set free from your bondage to sin if you will surrender your life to Jesus Christ“.
Every eye was on me the entire time and everyone sat and listened intently. It was wonderful. I could tell that so many of them were touched and convicted.
As I sat down Mark stood up and gave another message about the apostle Paul stating that the gospel was true and could set them free.
Jean Michelle then did an excellent altar call by tying together all of the messages that they had heard and calling them to repentance. About 100 men and six women came forward in repentance to confess Christ as Lord. We all prayed for them and then Von called men and women forward who needed prayer for healing and gave an excellent and detailed healing prayer.
Mark then prayed for the inmate church leaders, six or seven of them. He exhorted them to lead the church in the prison and to remain above reproach and to shepherd the flock with in the prison.
I presented gifts to all of the inmates. Just as with the other prisons we had rice, bread, margarine, chocolate spread, medical supplies, Bibles and a soccer ball. I also went over to the women and gave them all of our remaining feminine sanitary kits. They were very thankful and then they were extremely excited when I gave them their own soccer ball.
That closed our service. Pastor Dona said a couple things and then we all exited the prison. As I climbed the stairs to go out the door I looked back. There were so many smiling faces waving to me. I was so touched. I am so blessed to be able to serve in this ministry. These men and women are without hope but we bring the only hope they need, the greatest hope of all, the grace of God as given through Jesus Christ.
The drive home was about an hour and a half-we arrived at the hotel at 1:45. It was now time to conduct our audit with Pastor Dona.
The audit took about an hour. It is a time when we talk with the national pastor to get an update on the ministry and find out what problems he is facing and what successes he is experiencing in the country.
After the audit we chatted for a while and then went to dinner at our favorite restaurant, Istanbul. We were back to the hotel by about 5:45 PM and we each retreated to our rooms to decompress for the night.
It began pouring rain at 6:20 PM, the first rain we’ve had since we arrived a week ago. We have now been here exactly one week.
Please pray for Dan’s continued recovery, as well as mine. Pray that we have a very successful meeting tomorrow with the government officials and that our team farewell dinner goes well tomorrow with the nationals.
As with the previous days this week, photos will be posted when I get home and have better Internet. Thank you for reading and thank you for your prayers.