Last Wednesday we visited the Bangkok Women’s Prison, an enormous facility holding 5500 inmates. The women live in very close quarters, in stifling heat, many of them sentenced for breaking Thailand’s extremely strict drug laws. Conditions are difficult, to say the least. For at least 30 years Lourdes Holmes has been ministering at the women’s prison. In the beginning she could not meet the prisoners personally, but over the years the authorities allowed her to enter the prison. For many years she and her husband Charles have come to the prison to conduct monthly services attended by 300 Christian prisoners. They also have workers who go to the prison during the week to conduct English classes.
Charles and Lourdes regard the prison work as central to all they are doing in Thailand. At the present time they have 19 churches organized in various prisons across the country. Very few missionaries work in the prisons so the fields are truly ripe for harvest for the Lord.
They don’t just come and preach. Their goal is to win the women, disciple them, and then organize them into prison churches. They pray for the Lord to raise up godly women who will be respected by the other prisoners. The current leader comes from Ghana and has been in prison for many years. She is in charge of 12 women who are in charge of 60 other women who organize all the Christian women into ministry teams. Those teams fan out throughout the prison to visit the hospital ward, the AIDS patients, and every section of the prison, sharing Christ and serving others. Charles and Lourdes provide soap and other badly-needed items for the prisoners who often give it away to others. They are truly living out “love in action” behind the prison walls.
Charles and Lourdes took Marlene and I and Bill and Mary Jo Price to the service last Wednesday at the prison. On a brutally hot day, nearly 300 women set cross-legged on mats for nearly two hours. A few feet away other women marched by, we could hear the prison band practicing, and hundreds of women prisoners were working nearby. It was noisy, crowded, and very hot.
The service began with a few announcements by Charles. Then he led in several choruses, which the women knew by heart and sang enthusiastically, with Lourdes playing the portable organ. The guests were introduced and then I preached on “It Is Finished,” with the woman from Ghana providing very lively translation. Then various groups of prisoners came forward to sing–one from Burma, another from China, another from Russia, climaxed by the women from death row singing about their hope in the Lord. Bill Price prayed that they might be released from death row. I met a woman from Malaysia who said she was in for life. Many women had been there for 13-18 years already. When we waded into the crowd to say hello, they were all so happy to see us. I have rarely felt so welcomed in my life.
Because the children of prisoners are often abandoned or given to relatives who do not want them or cannot care for them, Charles and Lourdes started the Bethany Children’s Home. There they receive good food, clean clothes, and education, and instruction in the Christian faith. When we met them on Sunday night, they had traveled three or four hours to Bangkok because they were going to prison to see their parents the next day.
We have placed an entire album of pictures about our visit on the Flickr website. Click on the link below to see those pictures. I would encourage you not to click on Slideshow but to view the pictures one by one because I have added comments to many of the pictures. Here is the link to the album: