“They Always Pray for People to Come”: Students Share Christ’s Love with Prisoners

05/22/17

“When I visited Bzyanzi prison I remembered how I used to live and how I was close to being like those boys in prison,” says Ireen Banda, a COTN University/Vocational student in Malawi.

Recently, as part of an outreach program for COTN University/Vocational students, students and staff visited Bzyanzi juvenile prison, located outside Malawi’s capital city of Lilongwe. For the students and prisoners, the trip ended up being life-changing.

Just like the prisoners, Ireen Banda, Alice Williams, Rebecca Nema, and Henry Chisale come from tough backgrounds—including poverty, abuse, and malnutrition. 

“I remember instead of going to school we were going to different streets to look for food and ask different people to help us have one meal for the day for us to survive,” Ireen says. “Because I was living in the streets I grew up with boys and I used to fight with boys for us to survive.” All that changed when COTN welcomed Ireen into a Children's Home, thanks to the generosity of partners like you.

Ireen remembers what it felt like to struggle to survive. She realizes her story is very similar to the young men's in the prison.

Like these COTN students, many of the young men in this prison come from the same difficult background and sadly, even in this government-run facility, their lives are precarious. 

The prisoners have to grow their own food because the government can’t afford to provide the food they need. The prisoners also do not receive personal hygiene supplies like soap and lotion. “They always pray for people to come and see them and maybe help them,” says Francisco Kalima, COTN-Malawi assistant spiritual care coordinator. “Because this prison is outside the city and a lot of people don’t even know that there is a prison where a lot of young people are looking for support and encouragement.” 

The students spent time talking with the prisoners, and listening to their stories. Many of the prisoners were imprisoned for theft. “When asked why, they all said because of poverty,” says Francisco.

                           COTN students passed out hygiene supplies to the prisoners. 

The students also shared their personal stories and the story of Christ’s redemption. “[The prisoners] thought what they did was unforgivable, but our college students shared about Christ’s forgiveness and how He died for us all,” says Francisco. 

This opportunity for students to help and encourage others is part of a larger outreach program for COTN’s University/Vocational students. Projects include sports outreach, door-to-door ministry, and open-air ministry. “We saw that a lot of people in those places had a need, like a physical need, but above all they needed the love of Christ,” says Francisco. These outreach projects encourage COTN students to follow Christ’s command to go and reach out to the poor and needy. But it’s changing students' hearts as well.

  The students are already planning to go back to the prison again, to continue their ministry.

At first, Alice says, she struggled with feeling like she wasn’t as sinful as the prisoners. But during their visit, she learned something important. “I got an insight that God created us the same, and I understand that every man or person is a sinner, but God has to do this work to forgive us and clean our sins,” Alice says. “So in short, I take prisoners as people who are the same like me.”

“I realized there is more to life than just being a 'free person,' as they called us,” says Ireen. “When I saw the looks on these boys' faces, I saw how they wanted to be like us and how much they admired us.” It got her thinking about how she lived her life. Was she an example worthy of following? 

Now, Ireen wants to get more people to go back to the prison to spend time with the boys and share the love of Christ. And she’s not the only one. Francisco says the team is already developing a plan to go back and start a soccer outreach program.

Learn more about COTN's University/Vocational Program and how you can sponsor a student today!