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Prayers answered in a Zambian prison

Kimberly Windham and Jane Thompson (center) celebrate a Zambian holiday with staff at a local prison. The IMB missionaries visit the prison once a week and have created a close friendship with the staff which allows them to have a weekly Bible study. IMB Photo

The news was good. So exciting, in fact, that it was hard to keep it a secret. The chief officer of the Zambian women’s prison, a local believer, pulled the visiting International Mission Board missionaries into his office. He looked around conspiratorially, burst into a huge smile and said four women who attend their weekly Bible study would soon be released. They’d received a presidential pardon.

Then he swore them to secrecy. While Jane Thompson and Kimberley Windham promised not to share about the pending release in their small group, the two women reasoned it wouldn’t hurt to give some extra hugs to women they’d probably never see again. After all, this was something they’d been praying about for two years.

A lot of people have been praying.

“Thank you for praying,” Windham wrote to Southern Baptist prayer warriors the moment the two missionaries got home. “We knew God was answering the many prayers that have gone before the throne of the most high God. Praise God for answering prayers!”

The president of Zambia can extend pardons on national holidays. Even though it doesn’t happen often, the female inmates had high hopes. They prayed for God’s will. Thompson and Windham asked for prayer for the women to be in the “safest, best place for them” and for their knowledge of the Truth to grow so they could share with others. For the last two years, the small group has prepared for the moment they are released from prison and able to take Bible stories and Jesus’ love back to their families and communities.

Thompson explained women are only released from this prison when a family member agrees to take them into their household — even if their sentence is over — to protect those with disabilities. One of the pardoned women, Bonnie, waited years for family to be found so she could go home. Southern Baptists prayed and her father was found.

Bonnie’s been a part of this small Bible study group since the beginning, back when all Thompson and Windham had was an old flannel graph kit and Sunday School posters they found buried in a homeschool resource room.

“These helped keep their attention and they could see the stories we talked about. Many were not familiar with the Bible or its stories,” Windham said. “So many of the stories related to them, especially Joseph in prison. It shows God can use you wherever you are.”

The women learn story after story, each leading to the truth of Jesus. Women then retell the stories to each other, guards and other inmates for practice in evangelism and simply to retain the oral stories.

“The hope is that when the women get released, they will share the stories in their community,” Thompson said.

The prayer needs for this ministry are just beginning, according to the missionaries. They know without Southern Baptists lifting them up, the road is much harder. They ask for continued prayer for:

• the women who received pardons. Ask God to help them during this transition period. Pray for courage to share Christ boldly in their new surroundings.

• Zambian believers to work alongside them in the prison, even taking over the ministry.

• the new intake of women who will begin attending the weekly gathering. Ask for the Holy Spirit to prepare their hearts to hear of a Savior who transforms lives.