“We Learn more from our failures than we learn from our triumph” – Nelson Mandela
Philemon ministry is part of the gigantic mission of Kitega community Centre: A healthy inclusive community in which every member is living a productive and dignified life. In many parts of Uganda, dignity is a luxury and men and women like prisoners and other social outcasts cannot afford it. In the prisoner’s world, hope is illusory. The prisoner’s world is a mystery: it is a labyrinth of loneliness, no children, no laughter, no smiles, no privacy, no freedom, no names and ultimately no hope.
It is against this back drop that Philemon ministries are started. The main aim of the ministries is to provide HOPE to the social outcasts in the correctional services as well as achieving a HUMANIZED and transformed offender community in Uganda through initiatives that help in rehabilitation, behavioral change and to fight recidivism. That is our road map to HOPE.
The love and Grace of God is the main theme of our ministries. We have developed other programmes as building blocks and sub themes aimed at helping us find the best way to let people who sit in darkness discover a great light which is the love of God and the forgiveness of sins found only in Jesus Christ. The concept of prison ministry is not new for Christians. One of the most celebrated stories of Prison ministry is found in the book of Philemon. Paul encountered a slave who had been imprisoned for fleecing his master. He shared with him the word of God and taught him about the love and Grace of God. He prepared him to be returned to his master as a changed man, and not as a slave but as a son. He named him Onesmus which means a person of value and purpose. Onesmus learnt a lot from his mistakes as a slave because he had a mentor who trained him and guided him in the ways of righteousness. On his return to the master he was no longer a slave but a person of value and dignity, he had become a son.
The story of Onesmus is our motivation. It reveals that there is hope for any man who finds Christ. Indeed, there is a lot of hope for transformation for the prisoner during his time of incarceration. Philemon employs a three-fold approach to the personal and social transformation of the prisoner. It may be summarized as Stepping OUT, stepping UP and Stepping ON
The Prison Outreach Program (stepping out) involves Evangelism aimed at introducing the inmate to Christ who is the source of forgiveness. It also involves a love ministry where members of the community and other well-wishers donate foodstuffs and other necessities to the inmates. The prisoners are encouraged and taken through sessions such as “Responsive Reflection”, “LETS TALK” and Discipleship. They are encouraged to step out of their old character and embrace a better life.
Change Your Life,(Stepping Up), The prisoners are taught that a good life is not what is there to marvel at in others but is available to them as anyone else. They are trained to become an “Onesmus”, a person of value and purpose in the community he/she will be moving into. Functional Adult literacy classes are conducted, Entrepreneurship training, Mentorship, counseling and guidance is also involved in this program. The prisoners are taught manners that make a good man and as such etiquette and behavioral change are emphasized. Ex-prisoners that have benefited from living a changed life share their testimonies and skills with them and give them HOPE of a life after strife. It involves a “Change Your Life Fund” which benefits progressive participants who have exuded the ability to practice what they have learnt.
KIPYA Project,(Stepping ON) KIPYA is a Luganda word for new. If anyone is In Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17) this involves testifying to the communities that behold the man has become a new being. Re-integration programmes into the community are carried out in this phase. The Members are attached to a VICOBA group (this is a group of savings and credit; it later becomes a family to the ex-prisoner). Through this group they can save money and borrow capital to start up their businesses and live new and dignified lives. They later become agents of change and embodiment of hope to the prisoners serving their sentences and living testimonies to the communities that indeed man is redeemable. The ex-prisoners are encouraged to move on with their new lives and to refrain from turning back.
I saw the caged bird fly out to freedom as it sang a new song of hope, it flew with a revitalized majesty and I was glad to be the Wind beneath its wings!
One of our ambitious programs is to have a home for many of the prisoners who may not have a home to go back to. We intend to create a home for them where they can base to start up their new lives as and when they are ready to be received by the community. Statistics show that 20% percent of the prisoners that are released after serving their time will commit a crime before the lapse of 12 months and will be brought back to prisons. This is true to the extent that of the 60 people in our new 2015 group, 23 of them are serving their second or third term in prison. This is known as recidivism. To solve this problem, prisoners ought to be trained that going home is not a single event that occurs on the day the gates are open for you to leave but rather a series of small premeditated steps. We hope that as time goes on, this dream will become a reality.
In all the programmes the prisoners are called by name to instill in them a sense of individual worth. Sunday is the only day some of them get to hear their names. They are reminded that they are persons of honour with a name of value which they ought to cherish and jealously protect. And over the years prisoners have easily been reintegrated into the community, attained social and economic skills and Philemon Ministry, through the Grace of God, has shed a ray of HOPE to many men and women in the prisons and many souls have seen and experienced the love of God.