Prison isn’t a place anyone wants to be. To be locked up away from family, friends, and society takes a toll on the human soul. It becomes a place of hopelessness and despair. For many of the prisoners in the Tacloban City Jail, this reality has been a daunting one as they wait for a trial for months, even years! Being separated from your family like this for even a day or week can throw anyone into a deep depression that is difficult to come out of. One would expect to enter into such a place as this and just be overcome by the dark reality of their experiences and walk away hopeless. However, this is not the case in the women’s ward at the Tacloban City Jail.
I have had the privilege to visit the jail every summer since we started to consistently do weekly bible studies there on August 2, 2016. When I visited last month, I was overwhelmed by the changes that have happened there. Nothing much physically and objectively has changed for these prisoners. It’s still the same prison, the same size (too small to fit the 75 inmates), and their food rations provided are still bread and coffee in the mornings and rice in the evenings. Many are still waiting for a trial and a verdict, and still have not had visitors come to see them. And I see the same familiar faces. The difference, however, is the amount of joy and laughter that can be witnessed on the faces of the women there.
This was not the case when we first started working there. However, the consistency and faithfulness of Rina and Clark Miller along with several interns and volunteers who help, has enabled this change to happen. The women in this jail are experiencing the subjective freedom and joy that comes on the other end of learning God’s word and experiencing his love through his servants. Every week our people show up. We ensure that God’s Word is taught with times of worship. We conduct socially dynamic games to encourage women to understand themselves and each other. We deliver care packages and hygiene packs and conduct a monthly health seminar to empower the women to take care of one another. All this in obedience to Jesus who has told us to visit the prisoner.
Recently, Clark’s mother was able to visit the prison and testified to the fact that God’s spirit was there. “This doesn’t feel like a prison; it feels like church!” No longer are the women even known by just a number (assigned when entering), but this last time I saw that they all had name tags on, a simple but dignifying sign. More women are also being released. Last year there were 108, now there’s 75! One of the women released came to visit me at Tahanan, our community center. She informed me that she now helps with a prison ministry in the church she started to attend because of the work she saw us do when she was in jail. She now visits 5 different jails in the Visaya region!
God’s faithfulness and the love and care shown by our ministry has given us favor with jail wardens and has opened up the opportunity this last year to enter into the men’s ward and start to teach the Bible weekly! They have witnessed the distinctiveness of our staff and their care for the women and men in jail as a valuable service to the prisoners.
I wish you all could hear the testimonies coming from the women. They are testimonies of God’s faithfulness and the power of his word to change their minds and hearts despite the reality of their lives in prison. Through tears of joy, these women speak of the deep thankfulness they have for these times. The prisoners in these jails are experiencing the freedom that can only be accessed through God and his word. They don’t know when they will leave, but they do know that God loves, sees, and cares for them. It is only God, working through his people, who can make a prison a place to find friendship, love, and joy! Remember Jesus’ words in Luke and rejoice with us!
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,” (Luke 4:18)