Even the radio station was warning everyone in Bomet, Kenya to watch out for him. The local police were so eager to catch him that they even jailed his mother for 2 months, insisting that she must have had some part in his criminal activity, and hoping to flush Peter out of hiding. As a strong Christian, she believed that God had a different plan for her son’s life, and committed herself to pray every day for his change of heart. When Peter was finally caught and sentenced, he survived inside the walls with more illegal activities – smuggling cigarettes and other contraband into the prison and then selling them to other inmates.
But committed prayer changes things, and one day Peter’s world was turned upside down.
We had come to Peter’s prison with a group of chaplains-in-training from Tenwek Hospital near Bomet, and we were sharing with the men and about God’s love shown through His son, Jesus. Suddenly, this tall inmate shot up from the plastic barrel on which he was sitting and declared loudly, “I NEED TO REPENT!” He proceeded to confess some of his crimes, including the theft of a significant sum of money from a church in Bomet. Our team prayed over him and others who had asked God to change their hearts that day, and we departed with hope that this man’s transformation was genuine and that he would be mentored in his new faith.
Four weeks later the chaplain from Peter’s prison called us to let us know that the man who had come forward so eagerly during our visit was being released the next day and asked if we could assist him in returning to his village home in Bomet. With the help of some local pastors who knew Peter’s family, we drove him to his home where his mother, siblings, and neighbors were waiting for him after almost 8 years. The homecoming proceeded under the shade of a tree near their mud-walled home, with formal greetings by elders from the community, as well as inebriated cheers from several of Peter’s old friends who had come to join the celebration.
After sitting quietly through all the speeches and emotional welcomes, Peter stood and addressed us. “I have changed” he said in his quiet Kipsigis language, “and I am never going back. I have repented and given my life to Jesus Christ.” Peter shared that the day we had visited the prison, the barrel on which he had been sitting began to burn so hotly that he thought it was literally on fire, making him jump from his seat. He said that “in a flash” the Lord had shown him all the terrible mistakes of his past and his need for forgiveness, and he had been moved to respond. Peter now turned to his intoxicated buddies and spoke frankly: “And to my friends who are here today – when you are drunk, don’t come to my house. I am finished with that life.” Standing there with a brand new baseball cap in his hand, Peter closed his eyes and sang his thanks and praise to God, his once-broken-but-now-healed heart pouring itself out in the kind of grateful freedom that only a liberated prisoner could express.
Community support has continued for Peter and his family through visits, mentoring by local pastors, and more practical help for his new life from friends, neighbors, and church members. Prison training in carpentry has enabled him to build his own modest 2-room house, with help from others to get lumber for the walls and iron sheets for the roof. The first Sunday after his release, he returned to the Bomet church from which he had stolen money and asked their forgiveness, sharing the story of how God’s mercy had changed him and bringing many to tears. That church is now preparing him as a baptism candidate. Additional evidence of Peter’s conversion came through a visit to his father to confess a long-held bitterness and seek the father’s forgiveness, opening the door for their reconciliation.
Peter also joined the same team of chaplains for a return visit to his astonished former prisonmates. He speaks their language as only an ex-prisoner can, and gives them real hope that another life is possible. He has stated that his goal is to become a pastor. “I just want to teach God’s Word,” he tells us, and he shares his firsthand experience of its power to change a life with anyone who will listen. He comes from a poor family and has no money of his own, but he is trusting God and working hard to save for Bible college and a future family.
The life-changing effect of Christ’s love and forgiveness in Peter’s life would be hard to believe without the witnesses who can verify his criminal history. We, too, have been changed and encouraged by knowing him and watching his story unfold. Whether our prisons have been literal or spiritual, Peter is walking proof of the Jesus who came “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)
If you have already been set free by this Jesus, sing a song of freedom to someone still in chains. Reach out to someone who needs a welcome into your community or assistance for a fresh start. If you don’t know Jesus the chain-breaker yet, let Peter’s rescue encourage you. Peter would gladly tell you the Good News himself if he could.
Submitted by Alene Burgert, WGM Missionary to Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya, November 2010.