Tuesday, 18 June 2013

When love looks like a menthol candy and a bottle of shampoo...

When you are given a prison sentence, most ordinary comforts are removed from your life. In Thailand, most often there are more than fifty people staying in a prison cell together, with barely enough room for all of them to sleep. Any personal items that are allowed need to come from relatives, but often relatives are far away, or worse yet, have cut all ties because of the prison sentence.

One of the worst things about being in prison, we are told by those that have come out, is that inside the prison, you have no choices of your own to make. You eat what you are given, when you are told to. You return to your cell when you are told to. You wear the clothes that you have. There is no choice of what to wear - that is all you have. Some of the women have even told us stories of how they had only one bra, and when they washed it, it got stolen from the washing line. Most inmates get so used to not having to choose anything that coming out of prison is completely overwhelming for them.

There are a few choices that are left to make when you are in prison. One of them is your attitude while you are inside the prison walls. You can choose to change, to learn from your mistakes, or you can choose to stay the same. The environment inside a prison, is usually not conducive to a positive change in attitude. Ratchaburi Central Prison however is different. With prisoners in Thailand returning to the prisons sometimes 10 times or more, they have begun to see a need for change in the way that the prison system works. They have made the prison surroundings beautiful. The gardens between the zones are filled with plants and flowers. They allow numerous organizations to come into the prison to teach various things, because they desperately want to see change in the hearts of the prisoners.

We (YWAM Ratchaburi) are one of those organizations. And the inmates that study with us truly change. The wardens see it. They don't understand it. But they continue to allow us to do what we do because they see the visible change. The change in fact, has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with the inmates really and truly encountering Jesus. It is Jesus that is changing their hearts. It is Jesus that is teaching them how to love one another. It is Jesus that is changing the face of the prison, one life at a time. All we do is try to be available to love them in whatever way we can.

Last year when we began our three month Prison Discipleship Training School, (fifty inmates who gathered with us every day for an intensive Bible course), we had no idea the change that we would see in the lives of the students. Yet, they are not satisfied with only one three month course. They are desperately hungry to learn more. When we opened applications for the 2013 Prison DTS, we had only planned on accepting 25 students. Those that had studied last year begged us to allow them to join again. We were able to open this year’s Prison DTS up to the ladies and the men (2 days of teaching for the ladies and 2 days of teaching for the men), and on the opening day of the DTS last week, the total number of students was 72!

As we begin again to run the Prison DTS, we are reminded of some of the struggles that we watched last year’s students face. For many of the men, one of the only things that they are able to hold onto when they go to prison is smoking. To give up smoking in prison is not an easy feat. But in order to get the most out of the DTS class time, most of the men try to quit. Many of the students from last year were able to quit, but we know that it wasn't easy for them. One of the things that we found made it easier for them was to provide strong menthol candy for them during class each day. This set us back quite a bit in our budget, but we know that for those that it helped, it was worth it. It costs us about 1,200Baht a week just to provide enough candy for all the students each day. This is a really practical gift that people can give towards. If you have ever struggled to quit smoking and know how hard it is, let alone trying to do so in the stressful environment of a prison, maybe you would like to give towards this. You can do so here. Please send us an email to let us know so that we can make sure that we allocate the money correctly.

Living in a place with few ordinary comforts, or what most of us would consider necessities (shampoo, sanitary pads, washing powder, toothpaste), just a little bit of love goes a really long way. We cannot provide all the time for everyone, but we do like to give love gifts to the inmates when we are able to. A small pack of toiletries goes a long way to help someone in the prison understand that they are loved. If you would like to contribute towards this, please contact us and we will let you know how you can do so.

The last thing that we like to do, is to provide a special meal (a very simple meal to someone outside of prison, but for those inside, just having something different is special) and we eat together with the students. Eating together gives us the opportunity to share life on a different level with the students. When we eat together, we feel like family. Family is something that many of them don’t have any more – and is a special bond that we know contributes to helping them to change. Oftentimes, last year our students chose to study rather than to eat. You can't arrive late to meals in prison, and our classes often had to go over into the mealtime - sharing a meal together with the students helps them to get the food that they need, in a loving environment.

Sharing a meal together costs us about 800Baht per day. We would like to continue to do this throughout the 3 months, but right now don't have the budget to do so. If you would like to help us to provide a meal you can do so here. Please send us a separate email so that we can make sure the money gets allocated accordingly.

Will you help us to love the 72 students in the Prison DTS this year? You can give, you can pray, you can share this story with someone else who can do the same. You can help us to see the face of the Ratchaburi Central Prison changed for good.

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