Feature

A Light in Mondul Kiri

“I was in prison and you came . . .”

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There they were, lined up in two rows. My heart broke as I immediately thought, They have mothers, father, sisters, brothers and children. That was in January 2009.

Change Is Good

An elder from the local Khmer Evangelical Church (KEC; C&MA), who was also a prison guard, asked the church about helping out at the prison. I said we would see what could be done.

At that time, there wasn’t much light, physically or spiritually, in the Mondul Kiri provincial prison in Cambodia. The building, which was meant to hold 25 prisoners, was crowded with about 50 inmates. It was cold and didn’t smell good either. We contacted the Prison Fellowship (PF) branch in Phnom Penh for information about what that organization had done in other prisons and to find out how we might partner with them to improve the conditions at the Mondul Kiri facility.

After we surveyed the situation together, members of the PF group had some ideas. First, they would inquire about renovating the building so the prisoners could
have more room. It was so crowded in the cells that the prisoners took turns sleeping or standing at night. Another idea was that the KEC team and I would partner with PF by giving food items to the inmates once a month (which quickly became twice a month), and every three months, we would give a basic hygiene pack (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, etc.) to each prisoner. Most of the funds for these distributions came from PF.

Also, there were health issues. Due to lack of proper hygiene and sanitation, the prisoners had skin problems as well as frequent bouts of diarrhea. We distributed simple medications along with general information about personal health care. The mats they slept on weren’t helping the situation, so with some money from my C&MA work specials, we purchased new mats for each cell (and burned the old ones). These simple changes, along with a few others, improved the prisoners’ health.

Reading the Word

The next issue we tackled was illiteracy. Most of the inmates were unable to read or to write. Many had no education or had attended school for just a few grades. That is a good formula for getting into trouble.

The chief agreed for PF to help build an education building, while Compassion and Mercy Associates (CAMA) would supply funds for desks and benches. By the end of 2009, a building was erected with a cross on it (this was the prison chief’s idea).

In 2010 a few prisoners who had some education were trained to be teachers. Three classes were begun with a total of about 32 students, and books and other supplies were purchased. The classes offered great opportunities to share the good news. Starting with Genesis, we explained the fact that all mankind is a prisoner to sin. We taught them some Christian songs, and even if they didn’t know how to sing, they gave it their best shot.

A few of the prisoners said they had gone to a church before, but after a while they began to see that perhaps they had not clearly understood. With the chief’s permission and as prisoners gained the ability to read, we gave out tracts, New Testaments or complete Bibles, Bible stories and a few simple studies. Another useful item was eyeglasses, most of which were donated by an eye clinic in the United States.

Seeing the Light

In late 2011, the prison chief and I began to talk about the problem of no electric lights in the prison. The windows at the facility were shut at 4 p.m., so there was no light in the building until the windows were opened in the morning. After further discussion with CAMA staff and others, a solar-powered system was installed with the help of some of the prisoners who had mechanical skills.

Six months later, the lights came on, and we had a small ceremony. I spoke to the men about the One who gave the sun, which in turn powers the system for lights in the cells. “God is the light for our soul, and He wants to take the darkness out so He can live in our hearts,” I said. Now as the inmates study their lessons, read the Bible or sing songs until bedtime, the true light is beginning to shine.

We don’t know the whole impact of all that is being done, but seeds have been planted. The local C&MA church is now taking on responsibility for overseeing literacy and spiritual lessons. Praise God for His plan to reach people who are some of the least of these.

Released!

Nouen, in his mid-twenties, was in one of the prison literacy classes. He got into trouble because he hung around friends who broke the law. Though he was a little slower in learning the lessons, he liked to sing. The prison chief allowed him and some other prisoners to form a singing group.

In April 2012, Nouen was diagnosed with tuberculosis. After two months of treatment with one group of medicines, he was given stronger drugs. One day when I was at the prison, I noticed that he was having a bad reaction to the meds, so he was sent to the hospital. The next day, he seemed better. I told him that singing about Jesus was good, but he needed to know Jesus. I left a simple tract for him to read. Two days later, Nouen was in the emergency room, seriously ill. His family members told me the doctors wanted to send him to Phnom Penh for further treatment.

I felt the time was now or never to talk straight with him about Jesus and eternal life. After I explained the gospel, Nouen wanted to ask Jesus into his life. It was a true prayer of faith as he added his own words while I prayed with him. That afternoon Nouen left in an ambulance for Phnom Penh, but within 24 hours he died. Now he is singing in heaven.

Nouen would have been out of prison in a few months—but God had other plans. The young man was released from the prison of sin instead. After his death, I had an opportunity to talk with the other prisoners about Nouen’s decision. God does not always answer as we think, but He knows best.

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