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News for Mid March 2005

Prison Experience in Tanzania ...

Less than an hour's drive onto Tanzanian soil, and the first significant town beyond the border of Kenya seemed like a safe place to take a fellow traveller from Kenya to accompany me on this one-night trip. 'There are many Kenyan people who travel there regularly without passports' we were told by those living over on the Kenyan side. This old friend and faithful student of YTC usually gets very little opportunity to travel. Alfred (false name) was keen to come with me, even though he had no passport.

Just 5 hour's drive into Tanzania police stopped us to check our passports ( I have made many visits to Tanzania, and this had never happened). Funnily enough, after seeing my passport they waved us on. Then I was shocked the next day to hear a conversation with my colleague about 'passports' as our vehicle was being repaired outside a garage. It was the day of our departure, about 13 hours after arriving in town.

This government official demanded $50.00 from my colleague for a quick unconditional release. We refused to give it to him. An hour or so into our stay in the immigration office, I was told that $50.00 would be used for my colleague to be given a 'passport' so as to be on his way. I handed over the money only to be told 40 minutes later that they were going to keep Alfred in the cells at least until the following morning.

Having been told that there was nothing further there for me to do, I set off for the Bible school at which I was to meet our students. Their very helpful Principal accompanied me back to the immigration department, where we learned of the plan to take Alfred to court the following day to decide whether he was to be fined ($20.00 or so) or given a prison sentence of up> to 3 years!

Alfred's first response on being arrested had been to ask for his Bible, that I had in my bag. Not for clothes, money, food or even mercy! He never let go of his Bible every time that I saw him from then on.

Any fearful concern on my part that I had introduced another sulking unappreciative member to the prison population in this town, were to be dispelled when we met outside the court the following day! 'It was great Jim ' he said (all our conversations were in Kiswahili, so this is my attempt at translating). 'Don't worry because God showed me in a prophecy that I will be released today' he shared. He went on to tell me of his prison experience: 'This prison has mainly thieves and murderers. They soon realised that I was a man of God. I preached to the people in my cell. They were very glad. People confessed their sins. Many became Christians. I prayed for those who were sick and God healed them. I was able to interpret peoples' dreams for them. Many people put their faith in Christ. The people in the cell next door heard what was happening. They also wanted to be prayed for. The police allowed me to go and minister to them. Then there were the people in the following cell. So it went on. The policemen laid down their weapons and knelt down so that I could pray for them. They also have problems. That is how it went from about 6.00pm to 10.00pm.' Alfred was up again at 3.00am in prayer. Before long more prisoners were being ministered to yet again! He had a captive audience! Hardened criminals were now turning to Christ, receiving forgiveness for their souls and new life and hope. This did not cease till 8.00am, when it was time to get ready to go to court!

'Sleeping was no problem for me' said Alfred, even though he had nothing but a concrete floor for a bed. The smell was unpleasant (a bucket in the room was the toilet for all those present), but this was no shock to the system for Alfred. He reminded me of his regular praying and fasting. In fact, on route into Tanzania he was pointing out to me which hills were good for praying on and which not. Hills with a lot of boulders were good for prayer, he had assured me. When at home he often spends days at a time without food or water in a crevice or under a rock with only his Bible, praying and fasting. Spending one night in a prison sleeping on concrete with little food was not now going to trouble him!

There he was in the courtroom, still holding the Scriptures. All cases were heard, except his! 'Ah' said the judge, after officially closing the court. 'There is also one case of immigration, but we will deal with that one later in the office.' The reason for this, it would seem, was because everyone knew that Tanzanians and Kenyans were freely moving backwards and forwards, so why had this man been arrested? The court case that we had been promised would be heard at 8.00am, happened at 2.15pm. We paid the $20.00 fine, took some passport pictures of Alfred to the office, and sped off back to Kenya in the KIST suzuki. Alfred had been given official notification to leave the country within 24 hours. Just an hour later we were over the border. I breathed a sigh of relief, and laughed with joy and amazement as Alfred continued to recount the golden opportunity that God had opened up for him to minister to prisoners in Tanzania.

(I was even given back my $50.00).

Best wishes,