Freedom Behind Prison Walls
There are few things that can be compared to seeing someone’s very life direction completely change before your eyes. Someone who is down and out with no hope, someone who has always been at the bottom of the pile, or someone who society said could never change. To see one such as this transform before your eyes is a marvel to be rejoiced in. What is this kind of miracle called when it happens to fifty men at the same time?
Fifty male inmates in the Ratchaburi Central Prison joined the YWAM Ratchaburi Prison Discipleship Training School (PDTS) for three months of training. PDTS classes began in June of this year and continued until 31st of August.
These fifty PDTS students were quite a mixed bunch right from the start! Each had originated from different backgrounds and shared the fact that they have walked completely different roads to get to where they are today. Many were in prison for their involvement with drugs, some had only committed a first offence, and others were there as a result of executing much more grave offences.
At the beginning of the Prison DTS in June, it became apparent that the mix of students who had signed up PDTS, were attending for mixed reasons as well. Leaders of the already active church inside the prison were sincere in their intentions to learn more about being a disciple of Jesus and desired to learn how to teach others the same. Other students weren’t really sure, but were curious and wanted to find out more. Still another portion of the men, being a part of the Prison DTS program, meant getting out of the extra work duties and possibly getting a few free handouts along the way.
“Even prison guards began to notice the difference…”
It didn’t take long before God changed the hearts of those that were there for other reasons. Each day God moved amongst the students in a special way. The discipleship and training that the students were learning did not stay only in the classroom, but extended into their own lives in the prison. Even prison guards began to notice the difference and often commented on individuals that had drastically changed for the better.
One inmate in the PDTS program, known for having a “rough character” experienced this change first hand. While resting, he experienced a fellow inmate invade his sleeping space. The men sleep together on the floor with barely enough room for one to roll over at night. Each man has his sleeping space and it is understood that no one else is to move into it. In the heat of Thailand, with only one ceiling fan for the room, and forty sweaty men, it is a frustrating sleeping arrangement to say the least and tensions are sure to rise as quickly as does the temperature.
The inmate with the “rough character” instinctively reacted as he always had before: “protect my own space at any cost”.
He got up, and violently began kicking and beating the man who had trespassed on his space. When his anger subsided and had lain back down for the night, he immediately felt prompted to get up and read his Bible. Opening the Bible to Luke chapter 10 verse 27 he read, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Convicted, he got up straightaway, apologized and tended to the man he had fiercely attacked and hurt only moments before.
“…freedom is only the beginning…”
Working with the prison DTS was like living on a cloud. It was a surreal kind of reality where tough hardened men came together every day to learn to love and forgive, desire to lay down their own rights and completely change their old ways. Surreal reality in that the men visibly are no longer as they were when they started studying in June. When you see them now they are almost glowing. The love of Jesus is within them and flows out for others to see.
Perhaps the best expression of what God has done amongst this special group of students is through this song written by Diaw:
“Life behind these high walls contained only suffering and paying the price of our mistakes. Once in prison, is there anyone who should be concerned with our lives anymore? But, I met some Christians. They took me from the terrible things in my life, by telling me many wonderful things about God. Now my path is heavenwards.
I want to say thank you that you have shown me the path to salvation. I was blind, but now I can see. From now on, I will remember this love that You have given. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this prison ministry.”
Diaw is one of the inmates who was released soon after the start of the three month course and has since now gone on to attend his DTS in Chaing Rai, in northern Thailand. Raw emotion testified of the words the men sung each and every time as they thanked the various speakers who came to teach them.
This is only just the beginning of what God is going to do in the lives of the PDTS students and in the prison itself. A beautiful new beginning filled with hope for men who previously had none. God will continue to do much more in the Ratchaburi Central Prison and in the hearts and lives of those that were involved in the Prison DTS.
Freedom in Christ Jesus behind the prison walls – that’s where all these life-changing miracles started. And this freedom is only the beginning…