Proclaiming Freedom to the Captives

April 15, 2013

All 650 inmates at the Lezha prison received copies of the New Testament.

Every Thursday morning for the past three years, Edmond has arrived at the gate of Lezha prison and gone through the same routine. A guard escorts him to the main office, where he hands over his cell phone and identification cards. He even empties his pockets of a few Albanian leks and some loose change.

The only object he is permitted to take inside is a Bible.

Another guard accompanies Edmond and a Christian brother, Enris, through a door and back outside. They walk past a concrete courtyard where several men are playing soccer. The guard leads them into a minimum security building on the compound.

As they venture down the corridor of the cell block, guards and inmates alike nod recognition. Some greet Edmond by name and call out “Miredita! Hello!”

The jailer opens one of the cell doors and locks it after Edmond and Enris enter. The inmates welcome them with a kiss on the cheek, a customary greeting in Albanian culture.

Among the furnishings are beds, a television, a refrigerator, a cooking area, and a table and chairs. Six men live in the 86 square-foot room.

The prisoners offer their special guests seats at the table and serve them juice. Each man pulls out his own New Testament, gifts from Edmond´s ministry. Now it´s time to get down to business–God´s business.

"I was in prison, and you visited me"

Five years ago Edmond felt a calling from the Lord to visit all of the prisons in Albania–from the lowest to the highest security levels. Church planting had always been his focus, and he was still leading a congregation of some 30 members in Lezha. His heart became burdened, however, for the thousands of individuals locked in cells across Albania who would probably never enter anyone´s church doors. If they were to hear the good news, someone would have to bring it to them.

“My desire is to reach people everywhere,” said Edmond, whose ministry is assisted by Christian Aid Mission. “I saw there was a great need in the prisons for people to know the hope they can have in Christ.”

Sports ministry has been an effective outreach to prisoners.

He especially wanted to reach out to the 650 men who are incarcerated in a facility outside of Lezha, some six miles from where he pastors the church and where his family lives. The majority of these prisoners are from the northern provinces of the country, where Edmond grew up. They speak the same Gheg dialect.

Edmond has been granted official authorization to freely visit inmates across all security levels in the compound. Enris, a church planter from the capital city, goes with him to hold Bible studies and offer special programs.

In the last two years they distributed the New Testaments and other Christian literature in every cell, and the prisoners have been very receptive.

Winning their trust and respect has not been easy, however. Some will question Edmond´s sincerity or ask him for favors. Once they realize someone is extending true friendship to them, they start to open up–and they are willing to hear the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

“I never ask a prisoner, ‘What crime did you commit?´” he said. “Instead I tell him, ‘I am not here as a judge. I came simply to share the gospel.´”

Experiencing freedom in Christ

During their three-hour Thursday visits, Edmond and Enris pray with the men and teach from the Word of God. In May they will begin holding worship services in a meeting hall that prison staff has provided for them.

Currently there are six key disciples in the prison and 35 men who participate in the Bible studies and evangelistic outreach.

Guards have been impacted, too. Edmond was taken aback one day when a jailer commented to him privately, “Do you know that in Adam we have our old nature, but through Jesus Christ our nature can be made new?”

Edmond´s church offers summer camps for children and marriage enrichment seminars for couples.

“Where did you hear this?” the minister asked.

“I read the Bible every day,” the prison guard responded, smiling.

Edmond couldn´t help but smile, too. He said now when the guard sees him, he inquires, “Have you come today to evangelize? If so, good!”

Last December the administrator of the facility asked Edmond if his ministry would be interested in organizing a Christmas concert for the inmates. The holiday event provided much more than entertainment. A well-known Albanian singer shared his testimony, and the audience heard a message about Nicodemus and the meaning of being born again.

Other outreach to the prisoners includes English classes taught by Enris and the occasional distribution of clothing and toiletries. This year they would also like to offer basic computer instruction.

The work of the ministry extends beyond prison walls to the men´s families too. Sadly, the wives and children often live in impoverished circumstances and are scorned by society. Their families are grateful to receive food packages, but Edmond said just having someone come to check on them has had the greatest impact.

“They tell us, ‘You are the first people to come to our house and give us help. No one else cares about us.´

“When you show love in this way, they never forget you,” he said.

Prison outreach is only one aspect of the many programs offered by Edmond´s ministry in Albania. Each year they hold evangelistic events in Lezha, summer camps for children, and marriage and parenting seminars.

Christian Aid Mission is excited to come alongside this ministry, as they proclaim the way to true spiritual freedom for all those who are bound by sin and oppression. Currently they would like to purchase 10 second-hand computers, so they can begin training classes for the inmates. They also need furnishings for the prison meeting hall, where they will hold Bible studies and worship events starting in May.

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