Meeting Christ in prison

Christine Tan – was appointed Executive Director of Prison Fellowship Singapore in July 2013. A certified counsellor, Christine had volunteered with PFS before her appointment. Prior to this, she worked in different corporate communications roles in the private sector. She worships at St. George’s Church.

Mention “prison ministry” and often the first thing that comes to mind would be: Why do I want to help people who have committed a crime when there are so many others that I can help such as the sick and the handicapped? So, why Prison Ministry?

Elder Dr Lee Soo Ann of Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church had this to say: “While some of us go to church in our Sunday best, often to be seen, for prisoners, going to chapel on Sundays for Bible study or chapel worship is for an audience of one – God.

“Going into prison as a volunteer with Prison Fellowship Singapore (PFS) to minister to the prisoners, I had to be body-searched, and could not carry my phone, wallet or even my car keys. Having experienced prison visitations over the last three years, stripped of the material things we carry with us, I realised that I was in fact the one ‘in prison’, the ‘prison’ tied to the security of our cars, homes, comforts, families and what others think of us.

“Within the prison walls, I sensed a greater ‘freedom’ to study and share God’s Word, and it is my prayer that without the distractions of the ‘free world’, God’s love will truly take root in those whom the PFS ministers to.”

Ms Christine Wong, a volunteer from Christ Methodist Church, shared: “God called me into prison ministry in an unexpected encounter in April 2010 and shortly after, He showed me a vision during church camp. My father was an ex-offender and I felt led to help the least and the marginalised. God’s revelation through the late Rev Khoo Siaw Hua who faithfully witnessed to my father during those times and His love fills my life, and gives me the ability to reach out and continue to serve in prison ministry today.”

Indeed, just like Dr Lee and Ms Wong, volunteers and churches who partner with PFS believe, as in Matthew 25, that it is in prison that they meet Christ. Are you ready to do the same?

Trophies of Grace

Just as volunteers are blessed, so are the prisoners and their families.

Forty-seven-year-old Jensen Lee is no stranger to life behind bars; he was imprisoned ten times between 1987 and 2010 for drug-related offences. It was not until the tragic suicide of his mother that the repeat offender finally found the strength with PFS’s Christian Intensive Religious Counselling Programme (CIRCP) to make a clean break from his dark past.

It has been three years since Jensen left prison. Through PFS, he connected with a local church, took part in weekly aftercare fellowship sessions and became involved in ministering to ex-offenders. In early 2013, Jensen responded to a call to full-time ministry with PFS and now makes weekly visits into the prisons.

Mr Sin Peng Chua accepted Christ during his last incarceration in 2005. He suffered a stroke while in prison, but today he can walk and do things by himself. He’s thankful that God healed him and restored his hope to live a normal life. He continues to attend PFS’s after-care support group and events.

In December 1996 during the Christmas season, Mr Daniel Lee was confined to his single cell and planned to take his life. At that moment, he heard volunteer Christmas carollers singing “Amazing Grace”. He was touched and cried out to God for help. The love of God enfolded him and he began to feel a new sense of longing and hope. Daniel will be graduating from Trinity Theological College this year and is a volunteer at Tanah Merah Prison.

PFS’s involvement in prison ministry has evolved in the past 60 years and The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) has played a significant part in this.

When the Rev Khoo Siaw Hua, a Methodist pastor, became the first Prison Chaplain in 1953 (1953-1985), there was no “official” prison ministry. It only became official with the birth of Rehabilitation Life Limited (RL) in 1974, with one of its founding members being PFS’s current Chairman, Dr William Wan.

RL was renamed Prison Fellowship Singapore in 1985 when it became part of Prison Fellowship International, which was founded by Mr Chuck Colson. The Rev Khoo was succeeded by his son the Rev Henry Khoo (1968-2006) and subsequently by the Rev Chiu Ming Li from Barker Road Methodist Church, who then took on the role of Senior Prison Chaplain in 2006 (2006-2011), likewise seconded from the MCS.

Today, aside from the halfway houses, PFS is the largest of three Christian organisations that provide in-care programmes. On a weekly basis, about 1,200 inmates across the prisons attend our programmes. PFS remains deeply grateful for the commitment of its 400 volunteers, many of whom represent more than 20 Methodist churches, serving in PFS’s In-Care, After-Care and Family Care ministries.

In-Care – Involves participating in chapel services, conducting Bible classes and one-to-one counselling in the prisons.

After-Care – Volunteers involved in after-care befriend ex-offenders and journey with them through the men’s and ladies’ support group. They lead Bible classes, teach English and computer classes, organise outings and celebrations, and offer emotional support through pastoral counselling.

Family Care – Here, volunteers reach out to spouses, parents and children of inmates. Children of inmates are also supported through educational bursaries that were set up by donors to meet the academic needs of children and youths.

Angel Tree Project – An annual programme in which churches and volunteers raise funds and deliver food hampers to families of inmates, with the objective of helping families to reconcile. Volunteers have been equally blessed by the stories of reconciliation that take place.

A volunteer fondly recalled: “When we knocked on the door of the family, they told us to leave as they have severed ties with the inmate. However, we told them there was a handwritten letter we wanted to give them. When they read the letter, the parents broke down and said their son had never asked them for forgiveness before.” This was the start of that family’s reconciliation. Last year, a record 1,000 hampers were delivered to 850 families of local inmates.

If you have a burden for prison ministry, we invite you to be part of this important ministry, and share our mission of bringing the Gospel and love of Christ into the lives of the last, the least and the lost.