Christmas and Prisoners
After many, many years of petitioning, the prison authorities in Gondar, Ethiopia, have granted permission to the evangelical churches there to begin a prison outreach. The Gondar Prison houses on average 1500 prisoners. These are murders, rapists, thieves, arsonists. They are the sinners, the outcasts, the rebels from the northwest section of Ethiopia. These men are those of whom Jesus spoke in Matt. 25:36 when he said, I was in prison, and you came to me. (I invite you to read the whole passage of Matt. 25:31-40.)
At this time of the year most Christians are thinking about how their Savior left His home in heaven, became poor, and voluntarily suffered an unjust sentence of death. He did this so that we might be freed from the Prison for Sinners that held us captive.
Two days ago we got an email from one of the church leaders in Gondar. With great joy he told of the permission now granted to them by the prison authorities. The leaders have planned an outreach of evangelism and discipleship. It will start on the day of Ethiopian Christmas, which is January 8, 2008 on our calendar. On that day, church members will meet with each prisoner and give them some soap and toilet paper, items not provided by the prison system of Ethiopia. They will also give each prisoner a New Testament, which is provided by the Gideons. They will also give them a Christmas dinner, so instead of the usual bean porridge each prisoner will get to eat vegetables and meat!
As the prisoners gather to eat, the church leaders will share the Gospel message with them. This is the Good News that Jesus came for them, that through Jesus there is forgiveness, that through Jesus a way is made open directly to the Father in Heaven, and that Jesus knows and loves each member of the human race. The church leaders and evangelists will invite the prisoners to accept this greatest of all Christmas presents, and those prisoners who accept His gift will be enrolled in a discipleship course. This discipleship course will be taught by the church evangelists several times a week, teaching the Scriptures, teaching Jesus, teaching a changed life. As part of this Bible memory program, they will memorize the Scriptures. As in Burji and Alaba, we have promised a Bible to those who complete the memory program.
As you are enjoying all your holiday activities, will you remember these prisoners and church leaders? Will you pray for the hearts of these prisoners, that they will be readied for the Gospel message? Will you join in giving the Christmas dinner to the prisoners?
This is a joint outreach. The members of the five Gondar churches are giving of their money to buy the soap and toilet paper. They are also buying huge amount of onions, garlic, and spices for the dinner. And they are spending several days to do the labor of slaughtering the animals and cooking the food for the prisoners.
They have asked us to buy the animals, the grain, the firewood, and the oil for cooking the meal. The total needed to buy these things is $1,152. This means that each prisoner can be fed a Christmas dinner, so that he can be told the Gospel message, for only 77 cents. Can you believe it only 77 cents!
Ethiopian Christmas is exactly one month from today. As part of your celebration of the Savior who became poor for your sake, will you put a bread basket, or coffee can, or tin can in the center of your dinner table, and will you put just one dollar into that container every evening as you gather to eat? You are eating in freedom; you are eating in plenty; you are eating with the joy of Jesus in your heart. As you place your dollar in that collection basket, will you also pray for the prisoner who will be fed by that dollar? As you bow your head to thank the Lord for the life He has given you, and the food on your table, will you pray for that prisoner God would open his eyes and heart to the Gospel on Christmas day?
This is a great opportunity that the Gondar church leaders have allowed us to share with them. We have told them, Yes, God has called us to sow the Gospel with you in this way. Dave and I have committed to buy the oxen, sheep, grain, oil, and firewood for the Christmas meal for these prisoners. Would your family like to share in this sowing? We invite you to start your bread basket collection on your dinner table tonight, and we will see what harvest the Lord will give from our obedience in following the example of our Savior, who visited us in our Prison.
Send your collections to BeckyLynn Black, 2691 White House Rd., Nelson, VA 24580.
December 8, 2007