“I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
— Matthew 25:36, NIV
Sharing the Gospel with prisoners in Madagascar
Friends of Madagascar Mission (FOMM) began in 2009 with supporting 3 mission programs. Pat Bentsen, an American missionary, recommended that FOMM support this program because of God’s call through the false prison incarceration of Pastor Theodoric Rajaonary.
Pastor Rajaonary’s 10-month incarceration enabled him to realize that prisons needed both spiritual help and humanitarian aid. When he was freed from prison, cleared of all charges, he gathered his friends and asked them to work together with him to minister to prisoners. The Christian organization called Prison Ministry Madagascar was born and has grown from the original 3 prisons to 17 prisons currently. There are a total of 82 prisons in Madagascar.
The Madagascar Judicial System is based upon the French judicial system, which uses pre-trial detention. This system means you are guilty until proven innocent. As a result, many persons are held in prison for several years before they even have their time before a judge.
Number of Prisoners
total prison capacity
Amnesty International reports, “none of the prisons we visited separated pre-trial from sentenced prisoners, as is required by international human rights law. This has meant in some cases that children were sharing cells with convicted criminals. The poorest, including women and children, with the least recourse to legal help, are those who suffer the most.” The cells are dark, filthy, extremely overcrowded, lacking in fresh air and light, and posing serious risks to detainees’ physical and mental well-being.
FOMM’s Prison Ministry Program offers hope, care and a message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For each prison ministry site, a local Lutheran congregation is selected. The pastor and members of the congregation, called Shepherds, attend a three-day training session to learn the skills to carry out this ministry. The Shepherds visit the prison at least once every week to lead worship services, teach confirmation classes, distribute Bibles, counsel prisoners and baptize.
The prison provides one meal per day, consisting only of boiled cassava (the starchy tree root). A U.S. human rights report found that chronic malnutrition is the leading cause of death among prisoners in Madagascar and that the condition affects up to 2/3 of the inmates. As a result (besides paying for the ministry costs), FOMM also provides humanitarian funds for medical supplies and clothing, and to purchase rice and a protein to distribute to the prisoners.
PERSONAL STORIES OF HOW THE PRISON MINISTRY CHANGES LIVES
The best way to evaluate this Prison Ministry Madagascar is to hear the personal stories of how the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ affected individuals living in these deplorable conditions.
“My name is Florentine. I was sentenced to prison on September 27, 2004, for a 15-year sentence. I was released from prison early because of good conduct. While in prison I attended the Prison Ministry Worship Services and came to realize that God was always with me and loved me. I made a commitment to follow Jesus and I continue to pray that I will never forsake Him.”
“Many prisoner’s lives are changed because the church comes to minister to us. While I was in prison I was chosen to be the leader of the chapel. The chapel was in bad shape, so I recruited some of the prisoners to help me make the chapel a better place to worship our God. As a result, many more prisoners began to worship and many lives were changed.”
“Formerly I was an alcoholic, but now by the Grace of God, I have reformed. Every day I read and study the Bible to bring me hope and the love of God. For me, my life as a Christian now is to pray for others, especially those who are admitted to prisons, humbling myself before God and doing everything out of love. I thank God for the Prison Ministry Madagascar team that came to the prison and for preaching the Gospel and encouraging me. Jesus has convicted me and I accept Him as the Lord and Savior of my life. To Him alone be the glory!”
A prisoner, serving 33 years for stealing and selling cattle, gave this witness about the work of the Prison Ministry Madagascar Program:
“We cannot manage to find the right words to express our thanks for Friends of Madagascar Mission’s generosity. In a place that some call a second grave or hell, you (the Lutheran Church) come to us with words that give us hope spiritually, morally as well as physically.“
“We hope you will be able to expand your ministry to more prisons in Madagascar. We need this ministry because you bring us hope, a purpose to life and the promise of a future with God. Thank you for your commitment to the prisoners in Madagascar.”
FUTURE GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
Friends of Madagascar Mission (FOMM) has no plans to stop growing in our support of this mission and ministry work through the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM). Their commitment to be a church in mission is so great and their financial resources are so limited; however, they have the people trained to share the Good News of the Gospel in “Word and Deed.”
The mission and ministry are owned by them, not by FOMM. We are the faithful partners, providing prayer and financial resources. Then we get out of the way and watch the Malagasy Lutheran Church grow. We walk with them, learn from them, and share the joy of being one in faith. For all of this we give thanks to God!