The year was 1990. Bishop Enocent Silwamba was a new Prison Fellowship Zambia staff member. He was eager to make a difference, and his mission was clear: engage the Zambian church to help “transform criminal offenders, reconcile broken relationships, and restore wounded communities.” But it did not take long for him to encounter the unseen obstacles of his mission.
Silwamba joined Prison Fellowship Zambia during an exciting time of rapid growth. The ministry was successfully mobilizing local church volunteers and witnessing many heart-level transformations in prisoners. They watched just a few care groups, which reached only a few prisons at the time, grow to more than 40 care groups, reaching more than 83 percent of Zambia’s prisons in less than 10 years. Prisoners’ and ex-prisoners’ testimonies aired on radio and were printed in the media. They ran skills-training programs for ex-prisoners, and many churches participated in prayer vigils and collected clothes, food, and toiletries to distribute to prisoners.
But there was a problem.
In the midst of their success, prison authorities began to feel threatened by Prison Fellowship’s work, and grew increasingly hostile toward the ministry. Media articles published about issues of justice, rehabilitation, and the ministry’s stance on the death penalty only heightened the tension.
“Authorities felt the publicity was a criticism on their ability to do their job effectively,” says Silwamba. “They threatened to close prison doors to our ministry. We knew we needed to make a change.”
After several ineffective attempts to ease tensions and smooth over relationships, Silwamba and his team realized the ministry needed a stronger defense and turned to the Bible.
“We believed our opposition was spiritual, and required spiritual weapons,” says Silwamba. “Our enemy’s agenda is different from God’s. God desires justice, healing, transformation, reconciliation, and restoration, and the enemy will do everything to stop this work.”
Silwamba took Paul’s instruction seriously to “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11), calling volunteers across the country to pray and fast with them.
Through their fight, God remained faithful. The walls of hostility weakened. Prison authorities willingly worked through differences with Prison Fellowship, coming together for a common goal.
“They began to understand we were not a threat, but a partner in prisoner rehabilitation,” says Silwamba, as the working relationship between the two parties grew strong.
These relationships continue to propel the work of Prison Fellowship Zambia. Today, Silwamba is helping expand that reach beyond Zambian borders. He now serves as Prison Fellowship International’s director over Anglophone Africa, facilitating national ministries in that region in building their capacity through programs, such as Sycamore Tree Project®, the child sponsorship program, and The Prisoner’s Journey® in-prison evangelism and discipleship program—each of which Zambia embraces in their restorative mission.
Silwamba says he uses this story to remind himself—and encourage his team members—that the work of worldwide Prison Fellowship affiliates was founded on prayer and will be sustained by prayer.
“Whatever schemes Satan may use, I encourage you to take a stand—we are on the winning side!”
Prison Fellowship International works in 119 countries outside the United States. To learn more, visit pfi.org.