All around the world, there are people who have been imprisoned for no other reason than the fact they placed their faith in Jesus Christ. While it can be hard to fathom for us in the West, it remains a certain and dangerous reality for millions of our brothers and sisters. Their faith and courage are inspiring to me, and I wonder if I would have the same resolve if faced with similar circumstances.
I am very thankful that I live in a country that, to this point in my life, has allowed me to follow Christ without risk of imprisonment or torture. Still, we must remember those who daily endure hardships and persecution we can scarcely imagine.
This week I’ve been praying for the country of Eritrea. Eritrea is a small country in the Horn of Africa. Their government is in the process of systematically expelling everyone in the country who believes in Jesus. They are casting out those with the message they need most. Over 2,200 Christians remain imprisoned there. These aren’t the social club type of prisons you sometimes find in America; there is no TV, no bathroom facilities and no bed. In fact, many are held in underground cells and in shipping containers. Imagine the feeling of being trapped inside a small steel container in the heat of the sun. It is heart-wrenching to think what these believers are forced to endure.
In Matthew 25:31-45, Jesus told us to visit those who are in prison. Most of us can’t venture to places like Eritrea, much less gain access to the prisoners there. We can, however, pray daily for them. Pray God would strengthen them, comfort them and they might reflect His glory to their fellow prisoners and to their captors. I often pray a great revival would break out from the prisons and spread throughout the entire country. Jesus welcomed into His Kingdom those who visited prisoners; the ones who ignored the incarcerated were sent away from His presence. It’s a serious command with even more serious consequences.
A great resource for encouraging believers in chains, and standing with them, is the website prisoneralert.com. At this site, you can write letters to those who are in prison for their faith. You can select phrases and Bible verses that are then translated into the language of the one to whom you are writing. Print it out when you are done, add your signature and postage, and that’s it. It’s a remarkably simple yet highly effective way to let the persecuted know they are not alone and not forgotten. In this way, we can minister to their needs, if not physically, then at least spiritually.
But what about those who aren’t in prison for their faith, the people in our own town? I don’t see any distinction in the command of Jesus between Christian and non-Christian prisoners. He said to visit those in prison, period. People who are incarcerated, regardless of the circumstance, are typically lonely and searching for meaning in their lives. This is a great opportunity for us to be the hands and feet of Jesus to them, to reflect the love of God on them. Jesus said it wasn’t the healthy who needed a doctor, but rather the sick (Mark 2:17). In the same way, those in prison need to hear about the freedom found in Christ perhaps more than anyone else.
Once again, it is very clear what we should be doing. Jesus said to visit those in prison, so this is what we must do if we are serious about continuing the mission of Christ. Take some time to write to a brother or sister in prison today; better yet, make it a daily or weekly habit. Find a prison ministry in your city with which you could get involved. Men and women are dying in prison every day without the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ; we need to be doing something about that. As followers of Jesus, we all know what it was like to be a prisoner of sin. Reach out to those who remain in shackles, and tell them of the freedom found only in Christ. Live a life of obedience to Jesus, and reflect His glory to those in chains.