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.