Pictured above: Prison Ministry Chaplain Jackson, Tom Sanchez, Michelle Sanchez, and Grace Church Elder Eddie Phiri
Tom has been working with leaders from several countries to develop an effective and practical approach to prepare leaders for local churches. It has been found that most who are leading local assemblies can’t get away from their families and livelihoods for any significant amount of time to be discipled and attend centralized schools for the theological education they need. Bible correspondence courses (BCC) have been used in the past as a distance learning tool to get around this obstacle and have been revived. The spread of cellphones, computers, and photocopying technology have made it far easier to tap into this resource. We requested and have been given permission to use Bible Correspondence Fellowship’s course materials, and in return, we are editing the lessons so that they fit the size of paper used here and require fewer pages to be photocopied. The courses can be downloaded anywhere in the world by anyone with a working knowledge of English who wants to increase their knowledge of the Word of God. While we’ve been getting these lessons ready for use in Africa, an amazing thing happened: they were introduced to the local prison and immediately over 150 lessons were distributed and returned within a week, completed by prisoners wanting to study the Bible. We are now trying to keep the prison chaplain supplied with lessons for inmates.
Even as we were getting the first couple of Bible correspondence course (BCC) lessons up and running, an unintended offshoot of ministry exploded! A Zambian friend involved in prison ministry described the BCC materials to Jackson, the local prison chaplain and we showed him a sample lesson. He was ecstatic because he had been praying for some idea or tool to jumpstart his stagnant ministry that had become more focused on guards than inmates. He tested for interest in BCC among a segment of the total prison population which numbers somewhere above 2,000. Immediately and without hesitation, 150+ inmates and some guards signed up for the first lesson which is a 10-pager that goes through the Scriptures showing God’s revelation of salvation by grace through faith. An Egyptian Christian who attends Grace Community Fellowship in Kabwe stepped up to cover the cost of getting those first 1500 pages of photocopying done. The chaplain distributed the lessons and within a week, ALL 144 budding scholars completed their first lesson and returned them to the chaplain for correction. The logistics for finding Bibles for inmates, registering them to track their progress, correcting their lessons, and giving them feedback suddenly pushed us to put together a much larger team to get involved in prison ministry as a part of BCC outreach. Our intended target audience was to use BCC as a tool to bring Bible training to pastors and lay leaders, not prisoners. Bible Correspondence Fellowship, in partnership with Prison Mission Association, had created the lessons for prison ministry. Now they’re going to do what they were designed for, and evidently, what God wants done.
We experienced a couple miracles getting over hurdles that we were told could potentially stop this work in its tracks for months or even indefinitely. We needed government permission to proceed with what we were already doing and to take it, personally, inside the prison walls. We spent several days carefully crafting a letter to the Commissioner General for Corrections for permission to minister in prisons, and a few more days getting another letter into just the right official’s hands in Lusaka to ask that foreigners (mostly missionaries) be allowed to help alongside our Zambian teammates. The SAME DAY that we deposited the letters, we received calls saying that letters of affirmation were ready to be picked up. A same-day response is something I was told NEVER happens in Zambia, let alone twice at two different levels of government. The Lord is showing us that He wants this done NOW! The Zambian Gideons have agreed to help by supplying some New Testaments and whole Bibles to the prison library. It’s all coming together and we took our first trip into the maximum security prison Saturday, Dec. 8. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 90+ men came forward to receive forgiveness and declare faith in the Lord Jesus. Then the following week we preached another message to 100 death row inmates in two shifts of 50 each and about a dozen came forward. Pray with us to bring the message of forgiveness and peace that comes with it to Zambia’s prisoners. In the time between face-to-face visits the BCC lessons will keep many minds focused on what they have believed and growing in their faith.
Prisioners in particular cannot afford to pay the cost of printing lessons, so we are receiving donations HERE to help with the cost of printing lessons, about 30 cents each. Just choose Project #1.