A Captive Audience
One aspect of mission work in a foreign country is that you never know what exactly is going to happen. You continually learn from new situations and new opportunities. The mission team’s first convert in Vanuatu was a young woman named Yoland. We rejoiced with the heavens at her decision to put on Christ and looked forward to the days ahead in Christian service. But as it turned out, she was more than a convert, she was the catalyst for a new opportunity.
Yoland has a brother named Morris who is in prison here in Port Vila. He has been looking to straighten his life and Yoland asked if one of the team members would be willing to go to the prison and talk with him. It was arranged that I would go, meet Morris, and try to arrange a study with him. The first task is to get permission from the prison to see Morris. The visitation schedule says that each prisoner can have only one visitor per month for two hours on Sunday afternoon. You must sign up in advance in order to meet with a prisoner. I went in on November 3rd to try and arrangement to meet him on the 6th, but encountered some ignorance on the part of the guard on duty. I was later told to come back next week and make arrangements. I went back to the prison on Tuesday the 8th and found a guard who knew what was going on. I told him that I was a preacher and my goal was to study the Bible with Morris. He scheduled me to come back on the 13th and meet with Morris.
When I came back on the 11th I was told that they made a mistake in scheduling me, that Morris had already had his visitor for the month but that they would let me go inside the prison to have a Bible study. The prisoner visits take place outside the prison walls in a large yard but I was able to go inside where all of the men are. I was a bit unsure of the whole situation because I didn’t know Morris, I had never met him, and I didn’t know how I would be received. When I walked inside I walked over and sat down in a common area with tables and benches. I was greeted by several prisoners with handshakes and I asked them to find Morris. As it turns out he was sleeping but they woke him for me. We sat down and started to talk a bit but the whole deal was awkward. I am certain that last thing he expected that day was a big white guy coming to visit. Anyway, I said that I was a friend of his sister’s and she asked if I would come and talk and see if you wanted to study. He said yes he wanted to study so I started to talk with him about the inspiration of the Bible. Soon after several others started to come and join the study. I ended the day with eight men which came to the study and asked questions on various topics. I left some tracts and outlines with them to study further. I told them that I wanted to come back each week to have a Bible study and they were all supportive. I considered the afternoon a success and looked forward to the future.
My next task was to secure permission from the prison supervisor for a weekly Bible study. I wrote and delivered a letter detailing my desire for the study to start on a regular basis in December, and the plan I would pursue in giving the studies. I told him that I wanted to build a foundation first of Bible truth and then go up from there, just like building a house. I took the letter in on Friday the 18th and he approved it that day. I didn’t know this as I expected the process to take a while. I went back on Tuesday the 22nd and the guard said that it was approved. He gave me the letter with the supervisor’s hand written approval. I said that I would be back on the first Sunday of December.
I went back on December 4th and had a great study with 11 men. We talked about the Old and New laws which are found in the Bible. Which one is for us today, the old or the new? A few guys from the previous study had visitors so they could not make it but there some new guys in their place. Again there was plenty of questions and answers. A lot of guys have trouble using their Bible because they don’t know the books of the Bible. I will make a study on the books and division of the Bible next week. I stayed until a little after 4:00pm and left again encouraged by the time.
My visit on the 11th of December was a little different. I could tell that something was different that day because they were not allowing family visits. They did let me in and I found out that there had been a escape. As it turns out, 11 men got out the night before. I was glad that they let me in and the usual 6 guys showed up right away. I waited a short time but found out that some of the other guys who were involved in the studies were the ones which escaped. The study started with six and ended with eight this day. There was a different feeling around the prison because of the escape. I ended up staying until almost 5:00pm before leaving. One particular young man asked questions for about an hour and a half. He said he was preparing to be baptized into a denominational church and I asked if his baptism would be to go into the Lord’s body, the church in the Bible. He didn’t know so he asked if we could study the church next time. I said yes and hope that a lot of people will come.
I can't help but think about the words of the aposol Paul as he asked the brethren of that time to remember his chains (Col 4:8). His imprisonment of course was of a different nature but God used his time in prison to save many souls (Phil 1:12-14). I hope and pray that this will be a ministry that is just starting and one which will yield a harvest for the Lord. There are as many denominations in prison as there are outside, so someone with real strength will have to carry the torch for truth. God has enabled the prison ministry thus far, please pray for its continuance and for God to use this time and place for the expansion of His kingdom. Amen.