Close this search box.
Stories of hope

Release for the Captives

Share this story

How running courses in prisons brings freedom for inmates and volunteers alike

I am continually humbled by how God works to bring the amazing life-saving hope in Christ to all who hear and receive. But I am equally humbled and amazed by how God, in his mercy and grace, continues to encourage those of us already on the journey.

This ongoing working out of God’s plan, set in motion before the beginning of time, was recently highlighted to me when I was part of a team running The Prisoner’s Journey in a prison in South Australia. There is so much joy as we, who are already believers, witness the synchronisation of all that God is doing in relentless love, to bring others into His kingdom. In my experience, Prison Fellowship volunteers are motivated by a passion to share the freedom Christ offers. 

I am, of course, aware that being as well prepared as possible to present a course like The Prisoner’s Journey is vital. For a team to deliver the course well, it takes time, planning, and collaborating. Being prepared means getting together as a volunteer team to plan. We study the material, share thoughts around presentation, debrief after each session in the prison, and of course we pray together, knowing that the Spirit hovers over it all, to bring open minds and soft hearts.

Another crucial part of our planning is ensuring that we are ‘prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks.’ And those who participate in The Prisoner’s Journey are surely asking!

But it is what we don’t plan for that struck me recently. The wonder of glimpsing that momentary divine encounter, where a door opens unexpectedly, and that thin place is entered where freedom is encountered because of a message that speaks of hope, grace and forgiveness for all. And the messengers, as well as those receiving, are touched as we see God at work. That place where those of us already on the journey are unexpectedly encouraged and deeply blessed to see the ongoing working out of a love so amazing, so divine.

Damian* was mostly quiet throughout the 8-week course. He would come early, often to just sit quietly with his head down, as we set up the room. As the course progressed, he began to understand the freedom of forgiveness offered to those who come to Christ with a repentant heart. He began to understand that he could be forgiven for the crime he had committed that had landed him in this place, incarcerated for years. But there remained such a sense of heaviness and his future hopes and plans seemed defined only by the pain of his past.

On rare occasions during his time sitting with us before the session commenced, he would chat. What he had experienced in the past distorted almost every aspect of his life now. His plans and visions for the future were devoid of any relationships, children, or family life.

But something unexpected took place on the last day, as the Holy Spirit worked beyond the expectations of our preparation. Something not scripted, not covered in the content, became apparent for Damian: the understanding that the Word we were sharing is truly two-edged. Forgiveness can be received but it can also be extended and given. 

The realisation struck him, that in extending forgiveness Damian could also be free of the powerlessness and injustice of his past. Then came the tentative hope that comes with the understanding that he could, asked or not asked, deserved or not deserved, extend forgiveness to those who had wounded him, and then walk away released from the enormous weight he had carried for so long.

As those entrusted with the incredible privilege of bringing this Good News to prisoners, we too are released. We are released from our limitations as mere humans to see the power of this living water, which springs up in unanticipated ways and flows on to eternal life. All our careful planning, as important as it is, is just one element of how God works in the prisons. How wondrous, that God goes ahead of us and is already working in the hearts and minds of those we seek to care for.

Damian’s journey has just begun, and the possibilities are endless. He has begun to perceive that the beauty and power of the undeserved grace received from a God of endless love through the sacrifice of His Son, can flow freely outward because he whom the Son sets free, is free indeed.

Yvonne Smuts 

Volunteer, South Australia

Share this story