Prison Evangelism Transforms Inmates –
By Kudzai Chingwe –
HARARE, Zimbabwe (UM News)
Editor’s note: For security purposes, only the first names of incarcerated individuals have been used.
In an effort to share God’s love with those in need, The United Methodist Church brought hundreds of prisoners at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison to Christ. The prison is known for incarcerating men who have committed violent crimes such as murder, carjacking, human trafficking, sexual offenses, treason, and robbery.
The Church and Society committee of The United Methodist Church’s Harare East District in Zimbabwe led the prison fellowship ministry.
The Rev. Timiyo Chuma, the provincial prison chaplain, said he is grateful for the church’s outreach. “The transformation of inmates is a process and is a culmination of the work of many stakeholders and interventions. However, the effort of The UMC was amazing. It was physical, material and spiritual.”
The Rev. Oscar Nyasha Mukahanana, Harare East District superintendent, said after preaching and worshipping and receiving supplies from the church, 200 inmates offered their souls to Christ. “Two weeks later, the church was invited to witness their fruits as 350 inmates were baptized,” he said.
“The event was very emotional and exciting as I preached to the inmates from Matthew 25:35-37, which defines why we were at the prison as a church,” Mukahanana said. “The purpose was to evangelize and encourage them to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, regardless of the gravity or heinousness of their crimes, geographical location and age.”
He said it is the church’s mandate to express God’s love through visiting and sharing with those in prisons. “It was through God’s grace that in my 25 years in ministry, I experienced such a response of 200 people (inmates) offering their souls to Christ at once. What a big catch,” he said.
The Rev. David Mupaya, Harare East District connectional ministries chairperson, said evangelism is about using every opportunity to spread the Word. “Together with inmates, we danced (and) beat the drums as we praised and worshipped God, and we got instant results.”
Charity Nhira, Harare East District Church and Society chairperson, said after the service, gifts were distributed to the prisoners. The church brought toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrushes, soap, lotion, footwear, books, buckets and food valued at $5,000. “There was wild cheering as the inmates appreciated our intervention,” she said. “When under incarceration, society shuns them, relatives desist from visiting them, uncertainty about the future engulfs many. Stress and depression develops, and the church becomes the family.”
Dr. Andrew Chigudu, Harare East District lay leader, said the donations show the love of Jesus. “Those who have wronged society and been rehabilitated needed another chance to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior. The church came to accommodate all people, because all sinners were only saved by the blood of Jesus Christ,” he said. “The UMC’s gesture was a sign of love.”
Maplan Kakoto, Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison superintendent, said the donations are appreciated. “As government, we are facing a host of challenges, including lack of access to basic needs like water and utensils for inmates. Without the support from stakeholders, life will be very difficult for inmates, hence we treasure UMC’s contributions,” he said. “By wanting to be baptized, it means they want to be identified by Jesus Christ … (and) transformed for the better.”
Kakoto said the work of the church helps with the rehabilitation of inmates and their re-entry into society. “Remember, after the sentence they will join the society which they need to blend well with,” he said.
Gibson Munangwa, Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison chief correctional officer, agreed. “Activities such as the baptism of inmates helps them to fear God as they are prepared to be law-abiding citizens,” he said. “We are very grateful to the partners who are funding programs, especially in terms of the needs in the rehabilitation of inmates. Your support as UMC has been so generous and appreciated,” he said.
Peace, 22, who is serving a jail term of eight years, appreciated the baptisms and said he wants to be a righteous person before God. “If I go out, I will go to church and desist from evil things.”
Martin, 50, who is serving 20 years, said he is born again. “I want to be a pastor when I go out in the society.”
Phillip, 44, is serving a life sentence. “When I was in the society, I was doing evil things. Therefore, the teachings and sermons which we received led me to accept the sacrament of baptism. This makes me a new creation.” He said, however, the prison does not have enough Bibles and other reading materials. “We would be very grateful if we could have reading materials because we need to know more about Christ,” he said.
Tenson, 47, who was sentenced to 80 years in prison, said he has been transformed in jail. “I did not believe in Jesus Christ and now I am a believer. I want to help others as well in knowing Jesus Christ,” he said.
Partson Majoko, Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison chaplain, said he was impressed by the number of baptisms. “This is an indication of one’s personal identification with the greatest act of human history: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You become a new creation.”
Edington, 24, who is serving a 10-year sentence, said his family doesn’t visit. “I committed a heinous crime within the family and no family member is willing to be associated with me,” he said, adding that the church’s involvement is an answered prayer.
Ranch, 40, who is serving a 13-year sentence, said he does not have any visitors so he is happy with the intervention of the church. “The coming of (The) UMC is like a messenger from God, who follows the Word with action.”
Kudzai Chingwe is a communicator for the Zimbabwe East Conference. To donate money for Bibles for inmates at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, contact The United Methodist Church’s Harare East District by email, email@example.com. Photo: Chaplain Jefat Zhou baptizes one of 350 inmates christened at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 28. The baptisms were part of a United Methodist prison ministry led by of the Harare East DistrictÕs Church and Society Committee. Photo by Prudence Choto, Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.