A few years ago, it seemed that the Lord had started a remarkable gospel work in the Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison and that a Reformed Baptist Church had been established there, with its members and elders drawn from the community of prisoners, including some who faced the death penalty.
This work accepted the help of the nearby Reformed Baptist Church in Kabwe. Other churches in Zambia were enthusiastic and supportive, notably Kabwata Baptist Church. However, within about a year, things changed dramatically.
The churches discovered that many of the prisoners were cultivating the wrong kind of relationships with believers in the UK and USA, whose details had appeared in Evangelical periodicals.
They would open up correspondence by inviting warm and spiritual fellowship. They would then proceed to request items to help them in their ministries — Bibles, books, cassette tapes plus recorders.
Eventually they would entreat their correspondents for money to help them mount a legal defence, or have an operation, or meet their daily needs. Such appeals are powerful in their impact, and many people have asked pastors in Zambia for guidance on how best to respond.
Out of hand
Of course, some prisoners have been challenged and admonished by the churches about this, but everything is now ‘getting out of hand’. So many examples have occurred over the past year that it has become obvious that a major process of extorting money has been going on. Also, sadly, the prison church has split into a number of splinter groups.
Some of us who are pastors in Zambia have decided to answer all future enquiries about this particular prison ministry by saying that we do not recommend friends abroad to send anything to Mukobeko Prison.
Pastor Conrad Mbewe is prepared to make available, by e-mail, a memorandum on this matter. But the wisest course seems to be to refuse all requests for material goods or finance from Zambian prisoners, no matter how persuasive and genuine they seem to be.