As Lifewords gains access to prisons in Nairobi, the good news of the Bible is bringing light into dark places. Jess Bee reports.
Industrial Area Prison is home to hundreds of boys. It’s a tough environment. The old, worn out buildings are heavily guarded and overcrowded. Inmates lack supplies of basic necessities such as soap, toothpaste and underwear. The inmates in the boys’ remand section of the prison are arrested for minor offences: stealing, breaking and entering, drug use. Even those who have been involved in school riots, truancy or unruly behaviour at home find themselves here. Many young people spend their childhood in these institutions, some on remand for months or even years, waiting for their case to be heard. “Here it’s tough for them,” says Joyce Mutuku, head prison chaplain for the Nairobi
area. “Because of the prison system, they can be here for three years, up to seven years, as they wait for their cases to be heard.”
A WRONG TURN
For these boys, it’s often a bad decision that has led them here. “They have rebelled, succumbed to peer pressure, got into the wrong ways and end up in the wrong groups,” says Joyce. “They end up in bad company because they have nothing else: they haven’t gone to school, they don’t see the value of life, they get into crime because of that. And it is devastating.”
But, here lies a window of opportunity for Joyce and others like her to speak truth, hope, peace and comfort into their lives while they are under their care. Chaplains in prisons across Nairobi, together with the Lifewords Kenya team, are bringing good news to these boys and others who are in prison. Through God’s Word inmates are discovering a different way to live and hope for the future.
A NEW PATH
The prison system offers rehabilitation and career skills through schooling and courses.
“The institutions have courses to train inmates in technical skills, like farming, sheep-keeping and cow- keeping, so that when they leave, they have something that they can stand on,” says Margaret, chaplain at Kamiti prison. “Sometimes the prisons even contact their families on their behalf, for reconciliation. To make it easier for them to reintegrate in society.” However, this is a relatively new way of thinking for Kenyan prisons, only recently have prisoners even been permitted to have visitors from the outside.
Prison chaplains are also offering rehabilitation through building relationships, counselling and the power of God’s Word. Most of the boys they meet are dealing
with some sort of trauma or life circumstances that have led to their incarceration. They struggle with peer pressure, and their relationship with their families and society, often blaming them for their current situation. “They have their own lives in their hands,” says Monica, another chaplain. “It’s the decisions that they make that make their lives better or worse. So we do a lot of counselling, even before we start sharing the Word of God.”
It’s in these situations that Choose Life is helping boys learn how to make good choices. The curriculum-based programme is about trying to empower people to ask themselves, “What choices do I have?” and “what are the consequences of my actions”; “who is the person I want to be and what values do I want to live by?”
Choose Life helps the boys express their anger and helps them talk about their return to life both in prison and outside. They want to make good choices like keeping themselves clean, not fighting with each other, and deciding to keep the right company once they get out of prison. “They are great lessons,” says Monica. “We were teaching about 95 boys, and 18 men … many of them gave their life to Jesus … they are transformed … most of them changed because of Choose Life.”
Last year, while on a visit to Nairobi, Clenir dos Santos, Lifewords Pavement Project Director, visited a prison in Nairobi that is using Choose Life. “The image of those young boys sitting on their beds and listening so carefully to the message presented by the Choose Life facilitator is still very clear in my mind,” she says. “Choose Life can help enormously as they have the time and opportunity to think about their life, their environment and how they can choose better.” She continues with a story about one boy: “I clearly remember one boy who very sincerely asked us to pray for him to get out of there. I was touched by looking at him, so young and so lost. I had the opportunity to tell him Jesus is in prison with him. He is not alone. Every night when he lies down he can be sure Jesus is there, that he accepts them the way he is, and wants to walk with him there and outside.”
BREAKING THROUGH BARRIERS
Alongside using Choose Life with young people, the Lifewords team in Kenya has been visiting adult inmates in prisons across Nairobi, as they introduce chaplains to the Bible resources. Clara Ngobolia from Lifewords Kenya talks about the first time they visited Kamiti, a medium security prison for men: “We were led to the segregation section where the dangerous inmates are locked up. It was scary to even get close to them, let alone share the Bible with them. Their faces looked angry, some with bitterness, some with shame and guilt. We gave them Who Cares About Me? and at first some looked uninterested. But as we proceeded, they began to show interest, opened up and shared their feelings of anger, bitterness and shame as a result of what they were going through. Some broke down and cried, asking us to pray with them to receive Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Others wanted prayer for their families and some wanted prayer for the cases they were having in court. As we ended the session, they were very thankful that we had visited them and asked us to return. The prison officer who had accompanied us told us that the booklets had spoken to the men.
‘I have never seen them respond like that before,’ he said.”
The Lifewords team are planning to go to prisons around Nairobi once a month over the academic year, as part of the school education that the prisons offer to inmates. The programme will offer Picking Up the Pieces to adult inmates to share and talk about together.
In March this year the Kenyan government recognised Lifewords’ work in prisons and gave them authority to reach 12 institutions within Nairobi. This opens up opportunity to reach more and more people. And, it’s the Kenyan team’s hope that they will be able to equip many more chaplains to use Lifewords resources. “The results after one year of prison ministry have been amazing and we are excited at the change of hearts and transformation of lives as we share good news with the inmates through the programmes and literature,” says Sammy Kamore, from Lifewords Kenya. “Every time we visit different prisons, we get to hear great stories that confirm to us the importance of this work. It has been a beautiful journey getting involved with the inmates and witnessing the transforming power of God through the Bible’s life words.”
Praise God for the work of chaplains in prisons, and the opportunity they have to offer spiritual care and share life-changing good news.
Pray for the Nairobi inmates who have received Lifewords Bible booklets, that they would be comforted and transformed by God’s Word.
Pray for children in prisons around the world. The number is enormous, and many are living in harsh and uncomfortable conditions.
MAKE A GIFT
If you would like to partner with the Lifewords Kenya team in their vision to reach prison inmates with the Bible, you can make a gift online at lifewords.co.nz. Thank you!