A Visit to Prison

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During the week of August 24 I was privileged to join three others (Bishop Keith Elford of Canada, Bishop Elie Buconyori of Burundi, and Supt. Allan Ellershaw of the United Kingdom) in visiting our Church in Rwanda.  Our visit was on behalf of imprisoned Bishop Munyagisaka Philemon. 

Since May of 2006 Bishop Philemon has been in Kigali’s Central Prison charged with genocidal crimes.  We are certain that these charges are false, the result of conflicts in the church and the continuing struggle in Rwanda to deal with the atrocities of genocide that has so scarred the national psyche.  Bishop Philemon has opponents in the church who do not want him to lead because he belongs to the wrong tribe.  And, the judicial system created to prosecute crimes associated with the genocide functions in an atmosphere of continuing suspicion and fear.

Our delegation went to Rwanda to clarify Bishop Philemon’s situation actually, to see if there are ways to help his cause, and to plead for justice—both before the judicial system there and before our fellow Free Methodists who are in leadership within the church.  We believe that the Lord used our visit and that He is at work on behalf of this part of our family. 

The absolute highlight of our week came when our delegation visited Bishop Philemon in the central prison.  We found a modern day Apostle Paul.  Though he is under arrest, incarcerated, still the Word of God is not bound.  He is a Bishop charged with oversight of the church.  That is precisely what he does—even from the prison.  He writes letters, offers guidance to the church, and makes disciples.  He is known as the Bishop of the prison.  He studies and teaches on the mission of the church, with impact both inside and beyond his confinement.  Here are a few memorable lines:

• The best thing you can do for someone in prison is to visit.  Thank you!
• The two weaknesses of the church: we don’t pray enough and we don’t teach our members to be true disciples.
• Walk with God, then walk with people.  In that order!
• God has a plan, even for someone imprisoned unjustly.  And, it is always a blessing to be part of God’s plan!
• Tell the church (around the world praying for him) not to be afraid.  God is at work.

Before our closing time of prayer together, Bishop Philemon urged us to tell you: “I am strong spiritually, physically, and intellectually.  I have already forgiven those who have falsely accused me.  I am doing Ok, fulfilling God’s plan for this part of my life.  I have time to pray, think, study, write, and share with people.  And, he said with a twinkle and smile, I am now a sports-man!

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