Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am owe you this news since a long time, for as you see I’m making an account here of events from three month ago: our visit to the youth prison during Christmas. As an excuse, it may be mentioned that I had to wait for long until the photos arrived which were taken during our visit. It is not allowed to take cameras or mobile phones with them and take pictures. One of the police officers made the pictures and promised to send those to us later. But it took quite a while under this promise came to be fulfilled. Lately, I have been very busy with my studies, so I had to postpone some of my work to a later date. Nevertheless, even so the lively memories of this visit to the prison continue to engage our thoughts day by day.
I have to tell you in advance, that our criminal law and the functioning of prisons is closer to the more primitive forms of the Roman law that it is probably the case in the US. The main idea in putting someone behind bars is that such a person needs to be punished. Offering them a chance to change for the future is still less prevalent that it probably is the case in your country. So the persons sent to prison are kept behind bars, and learn from each other the wild tactics of violence and outrage.
Our story took its start in November when my wife, during her studies in pastoral psychology, began reading about pastoral care prisoners. The desolate spiritual state and the lack of any help for those wishing to change their lives for better raised in her a strong sense of compassion towards those people, and I felt we need to do something for them. We have to tell them about and bring them the love of Christ. The next time she talked about these to the young people during a bible study in the congregation. She proposed to pay a visit to these people in the prison during Christmas and bring them the good news. Well, everyone was very excited about the idea, boys and girls were all prepared to take part in this important project. Of course, it was not as easy as it first seemed. Visiting a prison has strict rules and time intervals that must be obeyed. We contacted one of our colleagues who works as a pastoral counselor in a prison some 80 miles away. He mediated for us by the commander of the prison to be allowed to enter for a visit during Christmas. Only 12 of us were allowed to enter, and all persons were previously checked for their past police records.
One of the difficult questions was: what should we take with us to the prisoners? This question was the more appealing as we heard that we were going to visit a prison for young persons of between 18-25 years of age, kept behind bars for 3-7 years. We have prepared a Christmas theater. It was a piece of drama about the visit of three strange persons to the cradle of the newborn baby Jesus. One of those persons was a philosopher, the other one a shabby poor man, and the third one was a prisoner in chains. It was fascinating to see how those three persons pour out their hearts before Jesus and find peace. I also prepared a short sermon which I adapted to the language and thoughts of the prisoners. We asked the young boys and girls of our congregation to bake cookies, and we prepared about 30 packs with candies, Christian calendars, and cosmetics. We have learned a few Christmas songs accompanied by guitar. The participants were aware that this was not an excursion but an important way to serve the Lord among souls living in institutional darkness. We have asked them to pray that the Holy Spirit of God may come with us on this visit and bless our service there, so that all hearts may be opened to his calling that they may feel his Love and the new life that he wanted to give them in Jesus.
On the morning we woke up to go to the prison, all boys and girls were excited. The tension was the highest when the door of the prison was closed behind us. We could feel the rigid, bleak air, and a strange sense of tightness that is hardly possible to tell you with words. After having been scanned through we were allowed to enter the first courtroom. They led us through the buildings. It was an extremely sad view to see young boys hanging on the bars and staring upon us, the new visitors. We were led though narrow corridors which raised a claustrophobic sense in some of us. Finally, we arrived in a place where about 30 young men were waiting for us. It was depressing to see them there as prisoners. God blessed our service, his word was revealed with much power, and they were closely following the theater as well. One of the songs that we sang there is rather unknown, so we were all the more surprised that one of the prisoners began to sing that hymn with us. The question was immediately raised in our thoughts: from which believer family could this boy come, that he knows this song? And why is he here? We personally gave the small presents to the prisoners and wished them a merry Christmas. Afterwards they were led away from the hall by one of the commanders.
When we came out from the prison, while still on the street, the boys and girls looked at one another. It was clearly visible how deeply they were impressed by what they had seen and heard. The next occasion we discussed our experiences with the rest of the bible study group. All, except for a 15 year old girl told me, they wished to participate in missionary work among prisoners on other occasions as well. This visit to the prison had a positive effect among the larger community of our congregation as well. We are thankful to God that he made this possible to us and he show us how important it is to pray for those living in prisons that God may open their minds and drive away that deep darkness in which they live, and make it possible to them to find their way back to the society from which they had been separated.
Brothers and sisters, I have been telling you in such details about these experiences purposefully, so that, on the one hand, you may share in our experience, and, on the other hand, that you pray too for these prisoners, and others all around the world. It was shown long ago that prisons do not help people getting better, and the experiences there make deviant attitude only worse. Without the help of God’s love for them it is impossible to change for better. But I believe this change is possible. Pray for them that God may touch their hearts, lead them to real freedom and healing. Pray for our youth that they devote their lives to following God and serving him wholeheartedly.
May God bless you, keep you and lead you in peace.