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...excerpt from TWR Canada President, Ray Alary's blog
The first TWR office in West Africa was in a small home in the Ivory Coast. Many programs were written and translated under a tree in the back yard. The response to these initial programs was immediate. Listeners heard the Gospel for the first time in their local language and called our office, wrote us letters, and visited us for counselling.
We'd been contacted by the warden at a maximum security prison (the second largest prison in the Ivory Coast). Would we come and visit the prison?
It was a 6 hour drive each way to Bouaké, and the prison only looked big enough to hold a couple hundred prisoners. Turns out there were actually 3,000 men living in the prison built for 1500.
The prison warden greeted us warmly, shook our hands, but told us that we could take nothing into the prison: no cameras, nothing in our pockets. The warden assigned a number of prisoners to be our body guards within the prison walls. The prison was dirty and crowded, and it smelled like urine, body odour, and sickness. If there is a hell on earth, this was it. Men wasted away on too little food, and wore clothing I wouldn’t use as a rag. Malnutrition, anemia, tuberculosis, and HIV were rampant.
We had been asked to visit for a reason, so I focused on that and followed our guide to the prison chapel. The warden had allowed a group of believers to build a chapel – it was simply some wooden poles and a tin roof.
They told us the following story.
One man had a radio and he listened to the news. Even though he had no interest in spiritual things he found himself listening regularly to Thru The Bible and a program that shared testimonies of believers (written under a tree in a back yard in the city). That prisoner accepted Christ as his Saviour.
Soon, fellow prisoners were asking him what happened. They could see that he had changed and wondered about it. He shared about the Thru The Bible radio program he had found, and before long there were many prisoners sharing his radio to listen to the program.
When we visited, there were about 150 men who had accepted Christ because of that one man and a radio.
In that humble prison chapel surrounded by thieves, murderers, and drug traffickers, I was reminded again that God can save any man, no matter what he has done. Those men were shining lights in what was one of the darkest places I have ever been. We stayed and worshipped God with those men, and you could truly sense that the Holy Spirit was amongst us.
We have never been able to document this, but anecdotally we were told that over 600 men had accepted Christ within a few years.
Sometimes, as Christians, we are hesitant to share our faith with non-believers because we think “they’ll never have a change of heart,” but only God sees the heart. We wouldn’t think a prison a likely place for a revival, but our ways are not Gods ways.
I am so thankful that these men could hear the message of forgiveness in the midst of a filthy dark situation.