The United Methodist Prison Ministry in Sierra Leone has been busy serenading local communities so that inmates can feel the joy of Christmas.
“We don’t want them to feel lonely, rejected or neglected,” said Elmira Sellu, a United Methodist regional missionary, “so we ended up visiting homes of our eminent Christian friends at night singing carols to raise funds to share with the inmates.
“You can understand their plight, wanting to drown their sorrows of being in prison at Christmas, especially first-timers coming to terms with the fact that they won’t be with their families.”
The prison ministry, which is a program of the United Methodist Women Missionary Initiative and Sierra Leone Conference, recently ministered to inmates at the Female Correctional Center in Freetown and juveniles at Remand Home. The goal was to raise hopes and bring good tidings of the joy of proclaiming the birth of Jesus Christ, even to people behind bars, Sellu said.
Over the years, The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone has provided support to inmates through Bible studies, counselling, teaching arts and crafts, pastoral care and offering mentorship to female inmates and juvenile offenders awaiting trial.
The ministry also is engaged in a benevolent program that supplies food and other donations, such as used clothing and toiletries, as a way to fellowship with inmates and ensure their well-being.
The money raised carolling will be used for future donations and to support the psychosocial work of the prison ministry, including skills training.
As part of the group’s holiday outreach, friends and families, as well as prison officials and ex-convicts, were invited to celebrate Christmas with the inmates on Dec. 19.
“The prison ministry is commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 25:31-46, especially in verse 36, which states that, “I was in prison, and ye visited me,” said the Rev. Daisy Gbloh, a prison ministry volunteer with the counselling unit.
“In fulfilment of this greatest Scriptural mandate, the prison ministry is striving to exhibit Christian love, compassion for prisoners and ex-prisoners in communities through forgiveness, reconciliation and re-integration,” she said.
Seray Cowan, manager in charge of the Female Correctional Center, said the prison in Sierra Leone has transformed itself into a rehabilitation center with the help of partners like the United Methodist Prison Ministry.
The center has been able to provide support to inmates, which has yielded positive effects in the rehabilitation and re-integration of inmates into their various communities, Cowan said.
Yvonne Taylor, an ex-convict who served a five-year prison sentence, encouraged the 60 inmates at the Female Correctional Center to be hopeful for their freedom someday. Taylor talked to the women about how her life was transformed by the church’s prison ministry.
She urged them to be strong and steadfast even in confinement and be hopeful for a brighter future.
Olivia Fonnie, the director for specialized ministry to children and Christian education, volunteers at Remand Home. She said the prison ministry wants to make a difference in the day-to-day rehabilitation of the youth so that they can be inspired to make positive changes today and in the future.
“Our counselling helps child offenders come to terms with their situation and make a commitment to improving their lives,” she said.
United Methodist regional missionary Finda Quiwa said advocating for the rights and release of innocent inmates behind bars and seeing them released has been amazing.
“I thank God for using the United Methodist Prison Ministry … to be part of the transformative life of inmates. We want them to be an agent of change in their communities after their prison experience.”
Kargbo is the director of Church and Society for the Sierra Leone Conference.