Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Prison Ministry, Lahore, Nov 2008

Prison Ministry Conference, Lahore 25-28 Nov 2008   from a report sent by Aamir

Bishop Joseph from Catholic Church, Diocese of Faisalabad officially opened the conference. The ceremony was attended by more than 100 people, with over 40 attending the whole conference. Rev Derek, from Manchester shared on good practice in the British Prison system. Rev Falak a Pakistani priest in Manchester Diocese shared his story:

'Experiencing pain'

“ I was 5 or 6 Years old when I first visited prison with my mother to see my father. I was 16 years old when I dedicated my life to God and went to Catholic Minor Seminary to become catechist because I always wanted to be a catholic priest. I finished my training as Catechist and also completed teacher training. When I was 18 years old, memories from my past especially those of visiting the prison started running in my mind like a film. It was then that the Lord gave me vision to start prison ministry through this verse {I was in prison and you did not visit me}. I started visiting prison and meeting prisoners there. Bishop Joseph was my rector at that time so I shared my vision with him. He encouraged me a lot and later I received encouragement and support from various other people, one nun used to accompany me to visit the women prisoners. I visited Karachi central jail for five and half years. With all the support from the priests we were able to fight for Christian rights in 1991, and got notification for remission on studying Bible. 19 people got remission in Sindh on the basis of this. 10 years ago I went to UK and completed 1 year prison chaplaincy training. I visited different jails did a study comparing the prison system of Pakistan and Britain. In Manchester I continued working in the prison because this has become to be the core of my ministry. {I was in prison and you did not visit me}. I myself had never been imprisoned but I had an accident through which Lord made me experience the pain and I could relate it to the pain that people go through in prisons.”

Sohail ’s Story:  'Sharing Life'  

In 1998 when I was working with a multinational company, I was charged with a murder case. On 31st March I was sent to jail and the worst thing was that my elder sister, elder brother and father were all convicted with me. Seeing my brother and father in the same cell made me very angry and sad. My rest of the family suffered a lot during this time as no one was out there to earn living. After 3-4 months when I was out of my fear of prison I started meeting and talking to other inmates. I always used to get angry with Christians who visited me and lectured me to repent, because I used to think that I had already repented and God should move on to take me out of prison. I accepted Jesus as my saviour on 26th May 1999. Today I remember Mr. B.  who is not with us as he used to visit me in prison with Arthur and used to counsel me, they helped me to pacify my anger. Arthur gave me a book that changed my life, I could never forget one sentence that changed my life "don’t look at your hardships turn your face and set your eyes on cross”. Lord gave me vision and burden for my fellow prisoners. One mullah used to come in prison to teach Muslim prisoners so I thought; why shouldn’t I teach my fellow Christian prisoners. I started bible classes and sharing stories. I got peace of mind in serving my fellow prisoners and I made committed my life with Lord through this ministry.

I moved an application that there is no place for worship to Superintendant who threw it out and made mockery of our request. I was saddened by the suffering of Christians due to injustice and discrimination. I was very confident that we would not get the punishment from the court because the Lord had put peace in my heart. One night before the decision, that was 31st May 2001, we all (fellow prisoners) sat to pray in our cell and my fellows put their hands on us and cried and prayed. Next morning we were released by the court due to lack of witness and proof.

We stayed in prison for three years and two months during which my family came under heavy loans as no one was earning. When I came back home I got depressed to see the poverty and the financial burden of the family, we could only afford to eat one meal in a day. After one month my father asked me to go out and earn money, and I thought I had promised with God to serve Him, how could I go and just do a job to earn money. I went to Karachi to my brother in-law who was a pastor and shared with him that I had promised with God to serve Him but my family situation is hindering my commitment, he advised that me to turn my face from problems and set my eyes on the cross.
I started serving the Lord in faith and arranged a first worship evening for the prison work. I had only thirty rupees with me while I needed fifteen thousand. While I was arranging 350 chairs for the event a pastor came and said that I should be expecting so many people to attend as people do not come to such events. I felt discouraged but I asked him to pray that the Lord fills all these seats, which he did. I started my ministry SHARING LIFE and kept walking in faith with God and He kept blessing me, today SHARING LIFE is known in 30 countries. Along with working for the spiritual and physical needs of prisoners SHARING LIFE also works on advocacy issues. In the future we are planning to set up a micro credit programme for the families of the prisoners.”

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