In 1999, I went to jail! The field service for the M/V Anastasis was in Conakry, Guinea and my wife, Warrie and I, led a team of about 20 Discipleship Training Students into the mountains of Guinea. One of our field service projects was to help clean up a local jail for the day.
When we arrived at the jail with our host, who had been working in the prison for years, we were told that we would not be allowed to clean the prison. However, we could organize the prisoners to clean their own cells. My team of men consisted of 10 energetic young students in their early twenties!
The conditions of the jail were horrible. Trash everywhere and the smell of raw sewage permeated the air. There were four large cells where the men slept at night. Each night the men would sleep on cardboard on their sides and 50 men would pile into each cell. We were also told that that the prisoner only received food if their friends and family brought it to them each day!
After organizing and completing the cell clean-up project, all the men gathered in a courtyard and we were asked to explain why we had come. As the leader of the group, I knew that we had to be careful what we communicated because of the high concentration of Muslims and the persecution of followers of Jesus. I did my best to communicate why we were there without offending anyone. What happened next, totally threw me off track!
One of the prisoners raised his hand and asked me to pray for them. I closed my eyes and began to pray carefully. I was a bit concerned for my host who had lived in the area for years and was serving at the prison. Would this ruin his chance for further service in the prison? When I finished, I looked up and all of my students were among the prisoners praying for them. Some of the students were not in the courtyard. Oh no!
I went to look for the missing students and found them in a cell for dying prisoners. They were praying for all those who asked them too. I was really concerned when a prisoner asked if I could tell him about Jesus too!
I told him about Jesus, but with the heavy Muslim influence in the area and the frequent persecution, I plainly told him of the cost that a decision for Jesus could bring. I felt like I was persuading him not to follow Jesus in order to really make sure he knew what he was doing. In the end, he decided that he wanted to follow Jesus regardless of the consequences.
Then a guard, who had observed my interactions with the prisoners and the prayer in the courtyard , told me to come with him. He had a gun, so I followed! The entire team followed me and so did my host. Would I be staying in the prison tonight? At least it was clean now! I was brought to the superintendent of prisons for the area with my host and a few team members. He stared at me for a long time and there was much talk (in French) among the other prison officials. Their conversation turned to arguments and then they left the room for what seemed like an hour.
When the prison officials came back, they looked at me and through a translator they thanked me and our team for showing their guards and prison officials how to serve and show compassion to those in the jail. They told me that they were interested in the Jesus that I told the prisoners about and they would talk further with my host. They then said we could go home.
After our students returned home, I sat in the car with our host. I apologized for creating such a scene at the prison, especially since his reputation and future access to the prison was on the line. He looked at me and said, “Never apologize for Jesus!” He then told me that what happened that day had totally changed his focus with his service at the prison and that he would now be allowed more access to the prison.
Each day, we have no idea what will happen. I am sure God has something in store for you that you could not have planned for. I want to encourage you to Follow the Lord, trust God, and don’t miss what He has for you each day!
Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”