I remember Simmo*. He sat near the door. The look on his face said, ‘I’m just here for the air-conditioning. Don’t mess with me.’
He returned the next fortnight. This time he looked a little more interested, and at the end of the meeting he said, ‘Could I have a Bible?’
Victor leads a team of 3 or 4 Prison Fellowship volunteers in Darwin, who provide two prison worship services every fortnight.
He and his wife moved to Darwin from Calcutta seven years ago to join their only daughter.
“I have been a volunteer with Prison Fellowship since 2016 when Glen Fairweather came here to Darwin. I put my hand up and said I would love to be involved. When Ian Townsend, the SA/NT State Manager, came up in September 2017 that’s when we officially started visiting the prisons.
“There were several reasons why I volunteered. One was my mother-in-law was very keen back in India that I should visit the prisoners. She would quote the verse ‘I was in prison and you did not visit me.’ I also believed in the words of Jesus, ‘In as much as you have done unto the least of these my brothers you have done it unto Me.’ So, I said yes, I think that’s where the Lord is calling me to minister.”
Victor’s team use a meeting room provided by the prison to hold the worship service. On average about 30 prisoners attend. The task of giving the message is rotated amongst the members of the team, who link the message to a lesson in The Prisoners’ Bible, provided by Prison Fellowship. In this Bible there are 52 lessons written specifically for prisoners, on topics such as how to control your anger, how to forgive, etc.
“The prisoners respond wonderfully, and because the large majority are indigenous, they love singing hymns and songs, which is how we always begin.
“After the message is delivered, we ask the prisoners if they have any prayer requests. They put up their hands and volunteer needs in their lives, for example, if their case is coming up for a hearing and they want us to pray for them.”
“We did not realise the impact we were having.”
Simmo sat near the door during the first chapel service, uninterested in exchanging pleasantries with the Prison Fellowship team.
“He returned the next fortnight. This time he looked a little more interested and at the end of the meeting he said, ‘Could I have a Bible?’”
After an absence of two meetings Simmo came to the meeting and we saw a different man. He was smiling, he came up to us, greeted us, and was talking and engaging with us.
‘I’ve been reading the Bible. I am learning to forgive and I’m going to be talking to my family this afternoon. I feel that I have some issues that I need to settle with them and talk to them about the change I am having.’
“Change in front of our eyes! Truly the Gospel has the power!
However, it’s often not that easy or simple. The next few weeks Simmo wasn’t there. The last time we saw him he had gone back to some anger issue. He said, ‘I have some issues, but I am still working on it.’
We know prisoners often have significant problems inside themselves. We understand that there are spiritual forces trying to keep prisoners from coming to the cross. But we always go with a message of hope, reformation, repentance and restoration.”