Bringing peace and hope to prison
“I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” – Jesus (Matthew 25:36, NIV)
Twice a week for 14 years, Salome* has visited women’s prisons in the Middle Eastern country where she lives. Though religious activity is not allowed, Salome regularly sings, prays and reads the Bible with the women she spends time with. Officials know what she’s doing, but “I think they see also it brings peace to the people when we worship. When we come, it brings hope.”
Indeed, the atmosphere in prison is “quite tough,” Salome described. “There’s fighting in the halls. They all have so many problems on their shoulders, and they live 10 people, 12 people in a room. It gets quite explosive at times.”
Walking down the long corridors, flanked by women who “smoke like chimneys,” Salome seeks to carry the presence of Jesus into the prison. “Going in there and giving them a hug and saying, ‘God bless you,’ I pray it would be the Lord touching these women,” Salome expressed.
Mingling of nations and religions
Despite the surrounding communities’ segregation, women from many nations and religions mingle in prison. Sometimes Salome finds Muslims more open to her message than others.
Once Salome met a woman who had been imprisoned by her husband. “When I get out of here, I will kill him,” the woman threatened. “He was so [addicted] to drugs, he didn’t have fear anymore.”
Salome urged the woman to forgive her husband. Hatred “only binds you,” she explained.
A couple Muslim women listening to the conversation agreed: “You cannot hold onto bitterness. You have to forgive.”
Another time, Salome met two Muslim ladies who eagerly soaked in the worship time and Salome’s words. “They were so thirsty,” Salome recalled. Using a picture cube, she explained the gospel of Jesus to both women and gave a Bible to one, who was from southern Iraq—“a city where they are totally unreached [by the gospel].”
Amongst one African community in the prison, Salome spends time with the Protestant believers to encourage them by reading the Scriptures and singing. One day, after reading Acts 16, a lady told Salome, “That message was truly for me. I have been asking the Lord, ‘Why am I here? Why does it take so long?’ Today reading that Paul and Silas were worshipping and praising the Lord at night in prison, [I decided] not to ask questions but just to praise the Lord and see the Lord at work.”
“Praise God that His Word still speaks,” Salome said.
Open hearts behind closed doors
With women constantly coming in and out of prison, sometimes Salome meets them only once. An African lady, who was released before seeing Salome a second time, left a note: “Thank you, sister, for coming and bringing us a word of hope in a time where we have lost hope.”
Tami*, an East Asian woman, murdered her boyfriend and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Each week, after Salome treks two and half hours one way on public transportation to visit the women in prison, Tami makes her a cup of tea. In fact, Tami* came to the Lord whilst in prison.
“If someone would have given me a Bible earlier on, I don’t think I would have killed him. God changed my heart, but at that time, I didn’t know God. Then, in my rage and anger, that’s how I expressed it,” she shared with Salome.
A few months ago, when Salome went to the prison, no one wanted to join her Bible study except for Tami. “Even for one person you come actually,” Salome stated, “but I said, ‘Lord, there’s no hunger for the Word of God.’ If there’s no hunger, then why do I come?’”
The next two weeks, Salome did not go to the prison. Finally, the third week she returned. Then she met Lina*, a 27-year-old medical doctor whose husband had become addicted to drugs. Attempting to keep her son away from his father, Lina fled the country. However, she had been apprehended by authorities and imprisoned.
As she played worship songs, Salome noticed Lina, a Muslim, singing along.
“How do you know that song?” Salome asked.
“All my money went to my boy,” Lina replied. “I put him in a Christian school…I love the Christians.”
Through that encounter, “I felt God answered my prayer for open hearts,” Salome said. “I want to keep on praying that He gives them open hearts and that they come to join [the Bible study] when I come. God gives me love for these people.”
“When you worship also, the Lord is there with His presence, and you feel that there comes a peace into their hearts, a rest into their hearts,” she continued. Pray that Salome will “speak in God’s authority to bring that life and light and hope to them.”
Nicole James is an international writer for OM, passionate about publishing stories of God’s work among the nations and telling people about the wonderful things He is doing around the world.