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Liberian fellowship prepares prisoners for society

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

Comfort T. Nimineh-Logan, known as Mother Comfort, sings with inmates at Monrovia Central Prison.
Jan. 25, 2006

By Linda Green*

MONROVIA, Liberia (UMNS) — She was arrested, served prison time and was placed under house arrest after her release — all for a crime her husband allegedly committed.

That experience compelled a Liberian United Methodist to found a ministry to help meet the needs of prisoners in her country.

“I started this ministry because I went to prison myself for the crime I did not commit in 1980,” said Comfort T. Nimineh-Logan.

Along with a group of ecumenical Christians, she created the Prison Fellowship of Liberia in 1986. The evangelistic mission ministers to eight prisons, prisoners and their families, ex-prisoners and crime victims in Liberia.

“I was accused about my husband’s indebtedness to the government,” she said. “He ran away and they thought they would get to him through me, but I knew nothing about his whereabouts.”

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

The Rev. Joseph Sunday, a retired United Methodist pastor and prison chaplain, speaks to the prisoners of the Monrovia (Liberia) Central Prison about the importance of spiritual freedom.
Nimineh-Logan spent four years either in prison or under house arrest. When she was released — with help from the denomination’s Liberia Annual Conference and staff of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries — other prisoners asked that she not forget them or their stories.

“That worked round and round in my ear until 1985,” she said. While attending a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, as a United Methodist representative, she discovered her calling for prison ministry.

“You have to have faith to do prison ministry,” she said. Faith, she said, carried her through all of the suffering she endured, including mistreatment and robbery.

The interdenominational ministry, housed in the Liberia Conference office compound and the recipient of United Methodist funds, seeks to help create a violence-free society through evangelism and discipleship, reconciliation and counseling, training and rehabilitation, feeding ministry, adult literacy and empowerment.

Other denominations involved in the fellowship are Baptist, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Lutheran and Presbyterian.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

The Rev. Joseph Sunday speaks to inmates at the Monrovia (Liberia) Central Prison.
“We speak for the destitute, and we speak for the voiceless,” Nimineh-Logan said. “We have to learn to forgive. ... If you cannot forgive, the country cannot move forward.”

Her vision is for a self-sufficient and self-reliant fellowship in its own facilities, with an agriculture base that would provide food to the prison. The fellowship is also affiliated with Prison Fellowship International, the ministry founded by Charles Colson, who served prison time for his role in the Watergate scandal.

Nimineh-Logan also seeks ways to get girls and children off the streets, empower them to be responsible and help keep them from prison in the future.

Held without trial

The population at the Monrovia Central Prison comprises men who have committed armed robbery, rape, murder and theft of property, and women who have misappropriated property or otherwise engaged in theft, said the Rev. Joseph Sunday, a retired United Methodist pastor and prison chaplain.

A news team from United Methodist News Service visited the Monrovia Central Prison late last summer. The prison lacks adequate ventilation, and the odor of unwashed bodies, illness and inadequate sanitation permeates the buildings. Bare floors, darkness, overcrowding, leaking ceilings, lack of food and lack of medicine are part of daily life for the prisoners. In some cells, prisoners stepped over their cellmates, who laid on thin mattresses or the bare floor, overcome with sickness.

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

The Rev. Francis S. Kollie, executive director of the Prison Fellowship of Liberia, speaks to a female inmate at Monrovia Central Prison.
Most of the 200 inmates don’t know how long they will be at the prison because they have never had a trial; they cannot afford a lawyer or court costs, said the Rev. Francis S. Kollie, executive director of the prison fellowship. “In Liberia, it is a bit difficult to hire lawyers because they want huge amounts of money now.”

“We are suffering here,” said inmate Alfonso Williams. A female inmate — one of seven women in the prison at the time — said she was in jail because she owed someone the equivalent of U.S.$250.

During the news team’s visit, Sunday spoke to the prisoners about the importance of spiritual freedom.

“Through spiritual freedom, you become a new person, you have a new outlook,” he told them. “You will be changed and take your rightful places in society. Therefore, you must always think about spiritual freedom. Realize your insufficiencies before God, realize that you are a sinner, realize that it is only Jesus Christ that can save you, and confess your sins to him while you are here. Admit what you have done through your personal prayer, and then you will be free.”

Children in prison

As chaplain, Sunday assists the fellowship in preparing “the inmates for useful citizenship.” His interest in prison ministry began in 1990 after realizing “that most young people were behind bars. I said, ?Well, I have to change my direction of ministry. Let me reach out to the young people and counsel them.’”

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A UMNS photo by Linda Green

Comfort T. Nimineh-Logan co-founded the Prison Fellowship of Liberia to “speak for the destitute and we speak for the voiceless.”
At the Monrovia prison, small juvenile cells house eight to 15 children each. The news team saw 10 children there during its visit.

For 15 years, Sunday has worked in the prison system, often counseling 10 to15 inmates at a time.

“I counsel them on emotional stability because most of them are traumatized (from the civil war),” he explained. “And those who seem to be worried, I counsel them that they shouldn’t be worried, that they should trust God.”

While the material benefit is small, Sunday finds pleasure in prison ministry. “In fact, prison ministry is a criteria for going to heaven,” he declared, citing Jesus’ admonition: “?I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’”

The inmates “are citizens of this country, and they need to be taken care of while in prison so that upon their release they can take their rightful place in society.”

Pressing needs

According to Nimineh-Logan, the fellowship is in dire need of basic resources as it attempts to provide health and welfare to the Monrovia Central Prison. The prison — like much of the city since the end of the civil war in 2003 — needs assistance with communications, electricity and water/sewage, as well as food and toiletry items for both men and women.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

Many of the inmates at Monrovia Central Prison have been held for months without trial.
One of the prison’s biggest needs is repair of the chapel. “This is the Lord’s temple,” she said. The leaks and structural damage are “a disgrace to us and to the house of God.”

Repairs to the chapel and numerous areas of the prison would lift spirits and change lives, both Sunday and Nimineh-Logan say. They seek assistance from churches in the United States to accomplish this task.

Sunday also would like to institute training programs for inmates.

“They steal,” he said of the inmates who could not find employment. “If they are trained, then when they get out, they will be self-sufficient,” he said.

The Prison Fellowship, Nimineh-Logan said, seeks to be “our brother’s keeper.”

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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Liberian Prison Ministry: Fellowship for the forgotten

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Resources

Prison Fellowship International

UMCOR: Liberia Emergency Response

Restorative Justice Theme Page

Board of Global Ministries

allAfrica.com: Liberia

Country Profile: Liberia