As he walks off the plane, down the walkway, and into the terminal, Ian knows he is a long way from home. When he left Adelaide three hours ago, it was cold and rainy. He breathes in the air, heavy with heat, and makes his way out of the Darwin airport to his car.
Ian Townsend is the Adelaide-based State Manager for South Australia and the Northern Territory, and is overwhelmed by the sense of peace he feels in both remarkably contrasting locations. “I don’t know if it’s because Darwin is becoming familiar, a bit like a second home, or the opportunity to enjoy a very different environment, but a peace comes over me as I drive down these (now!) familiar roads,” he said. “There is beautiful scenery, a lack of people, and I know the outback isn’t far away. That conjures a lot of peace for me.”
The next day, Ian is offered the chance to preach in the Darwin Correctional Centre. “During the worship time and leading up to the message, the [inmates] are talking to each other and messing around a little, but the moment I start to preach God’s word, a peace fills the room.” Some of these men may have waited three months to attend a church service, so when God’s word is spoken, they choose not to waste a moment. Their full attention is on Ian during his whole sermon.
Prison Fellowship has an amazing opportunity to provide regular church services in Darwin prison, and to allow inmates to experience God’s love and peace, even if for only a short time. In John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Ian Townsend, SA/NT State Manager
Enid’s alarm rings at 5.30am every Saturday morning. She drives through the dark of the Alice Springs morning to the Visitor Centre of the prison. Saturday is visitor day and 88-year-old Enid wants to be sure that when families arrive, they are welcomed with a smile and helping hands. There is much paperwork and administration that needs to be conducted before the families are permitted to enter the prison and it is the Prison Fellowship volunteers who assist with this work.
“Mainly I help people,” Enid says. “I am there to be of assistance, be a friend and most of all do the administrative work for their visit.
“The Visitor Centre is always full of people and noisy children, but we get through. I am so very busy getting everyone written up for each appointment that there is rarely ever time for even a lunch break. Once one appointment has gone in, it’s head down getting the next (group) in.”
The prison environment is, naturally, alien to many, and quite overwhelming for children. Prison Fellowship volunteers are there to provide emotional support and sort out any challenges that families may encounter when visiting loved ones. A majority of the families are visitors to Alice Springs from remote communities and are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Given that they may live in hot and dry conditions, they often arrive with nothing on their feet. Without footwear you are not permitted to enter the prison, so as an additional ministry, Enid and the team provide thongs for those with nothing on their feet.
Over and above the support families receive in the Visitors Centre, Prison Fellowship provides a bus service which picks people up from the Alice Springs CBD and travels to the Correctional Centre some 25 kms out of town. In 2018/19, 1877 loved ones travelled on that bus which operates every weekend of the year.
It’s amazing the work that a small team of dedicated workers can achieve. A lot of that comes from the devotion that Enid has given for more than two decades, ensuring that each weekend the bus was able to run and that she is at the other end waiting for them.
– Ian Townsend, SA/NT State Manager