Freedom Cannot Be Manacled
Sorry for posting so late, it’s been real whirlwind of a time here. It’s only been 10 days since we arrived but it feels like we’ve been here a month with all stuff we are doing. We as a team have been incredibly blessed while we are here. God provided a very nice house on a beautiful farm for us to live in, enough time to learn about and fully experience the culture of South Africa, wise and engaging leaders, but above all it has been an absolute gift from God to be able to work in prison ministry.
The title of this post is the first thing you see when you get to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was kept for 18 years. We went there on our second full day in South Africa to gain some context of the history of apartheid in South Africa, to understand prison as it was, and to gain some cultural perspective. The reason many of the people we meet are in prison is because they feel they have no other option because of the situation that the apartheid and segregation left them or their families in. The tide we are fighting against in prison, the infamous Number Gang, arose amid the disorder allowed by apartheid. Thus it was a sobering and inspirational place to begin our time.
Freedom cannot be manacled was a true then as it is today. We are seeing everyday that even though these men are walled off from society, behind bars, they are free and being freed. Our first week we were able to observe 2 days of a 6 day program called Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is designed to make the offender see the consequences of their crime. A prisoner begins with a recognition of himself as a person, not a criminal, and sees how their crime affected themselves as a person. They are then challenged to see the affect of crime on society, their community, those in relation to the victim and then victim themselves. The final day we saw was a public discussion between the prisoners and their families about their crime, their sentence, and about who they are. This was extremely emotional for everyone. Forgiveness and repentance are integral to the program. We were able to see the burdens of sin and shame and the pain and sorrow that falls of these men’s shoulders. It is amazing seeing the transformation that some of these guys experience.
The other evening we were able to sit in on the first follow-up meeting for a Restorative Justice program that was done at a Juvenile center a few weeks ago. There we met a young man named Fredrick. Upon talking with him, we learned that he is serving time for shooting and killing his cousin and that as soon as he got into prison, he joined up with the Numbers Gang and continued his life of gangsterism. During the week of Restorative Justice he was able to face the repercussions of his actions, tell his mother the truth about his crime, and most importantly, hear about the forgiveness and love that God has for him. The program shook him to his core. After many tears of repentance, Fredrick decided to give his heart to the Lord. He is now on the path towards change and new life. Fredrick is just one of the many incredible individuals that we have heard these past 10 days. God is doing big things down here and we are eager to see what these next 7 weeks will bring!