The mission field is just a short letter away
By Dr Andrew Kam
When I was asked if I could correspond with Bill, a Chinese prisoner in Thailand in 2005, God touched my spirit. From then on I began to see people in prison through grace-filled eyes and I became a recruit in His rescue mission.
Ellen Broerse the founder of Hope Behind Bars explained to me: “These prisoners are mainly from third world countries, serving a life sentence in Thai prisons. Due to poor social circumstances, these men and women yielded to temptation of earning “quick money” and became drug carriers, sometimes unbeknown to them and just once only, before getting caught and imprisoned. More often than not, they are now, forsaken by family and friends. The loneliness is sometimes harder to bear than the cruelty in the prisons. They would just love to receive a caring letter and some spiritual encouraging words to help them survive in their harsh and horrifying situation.”
Ellen started with just one prisoner. Her ministry mushroomed and today they are reaching out to over 300,000 men and women in Thailand prisons. On my part, with that one Chinese prisoner 10 years ago, I have 68 pen pals on my current list, excluding all those who have been released or died whilst still in prison. They are in 5 prisons and include men and women from Africa (Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda,) Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam.
Every one of my pen pals, acknowledge that their desperate and painful jail sentence was God’s way to wake them up. They have stopped running from God, cried out to Him and can now testify, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you”. My prime role is in providing fellowship through letter writing. I am happy that as a result, many of them, being ‘lost and found’ are now studying God’s Word every day and reaching out to others within the prison walls.
I have given each pen pal a subscription to Asian Beacon magazine so that they too can read the articles and testimonies of other Christians at work in their home countries and around the world. Each Christmas, Mrs Ellen Broerse and her team visit the prisons and they deposit my monetary gift into the personal bank accounts of the prisoners on my list so they can have a tangible experience that God cares for them and provides some of their basic necessities.
I am corresponding with several other prisoners who cannot read or write in English but only in Mandarin. That is no barrier as the Lord has provided several translators for me as well as prison cellmates who write in English. I know that this letter writing is a precious grace gift and privilege that God initiated, enlarging my sphere of influence even unto eternity. How can I not be awed and excited to see God at work inside prison walls as well as outside! When I started writing I did not expect anything in return as I was just naturally, sharing God’s overflowing love, and, I am tremendously surprised and blessed by all the pen pals I contacted. END
Dr Andrew Kam is a Singapore- born, Australian radiologist and was one of three co-founders of the firm SKG Radiology in Perth. He served God ‘fulltime’ in Clinical Radiology & in the local church. He started his prison pen pal ministry while he was still busy practising as a radiologist. He retired from clinical practice 10 years ago and continues serving God in different ministries, one of them being writing to prisoners.
Bill was from Hong Kong. He was arrested in July 1988 for smuggling drugs into Thailand. He grew up in a traditional Chinese religious culture and was a drug-addicted gangster. After 12 years in prison, in 2000, his cellmate introduced him to read the Bible, starting from the Gospel of John. “I pondered on my life – it has been really rough and bumpy,” he recounted. “When I read Jesus’ words, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ and saw the conversion prayer at the back of the Bible, I prayed to Jesus to forgive my sins and accepted Him as my Saviour. To my surprise I knelt on my bed, in tears…. but that feeling was really good. Later I was baptized.”
In early 2006, I sent Bill a copy of “The Purpose Driven Life”. Our Men’s Fellowship Group at Perth Chinese Christian Church chipped in to pay for Bill’s Passport and a flight ticket to return to Hong Kong where he was to spend the remaining time in prison. Bill shared that he experienced God teaching him to care and to motivate his jail mates with love and lead them to Jesus. “I thank the Lord” he enthused, “God made me understand that wherever I am and regardless of the circumstance, I can always bring God’s blessings to someone.” I visited Bill in his prison at Lantau Island in Hong Kong after I attended an International call2all conference there. Following his release in February 2010, (after 21 years and 7 months in jail), Bill completed the Onesimus Discipleship Program at the Hong Kong Christian Kun Sun Association and worshipped in Grace Church where he learned to love and care for the needy in the community. He said, “As I was learning to love, I also felt being loved by the pastors as well as brothers and sisters. That feeling of being accepted, encouraged and cared for gave me a sense of intimacy I had never felt before.” He continued, “The Lord kept sending His angels to walk with me, nurture me and transform me … I deeply felt the Lord’s guidance step by step after my rebirth. He helped me to grow in every way. Though there were hard times when I almost gave up Jesus always gave me strength. He even healed my hepatitis B and lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow).
“God not only saved me, He saved my mom as well.” Bill’s 80-year-old mother turned away from idol worshipping after witnessing the changes in his life. She was baptised during Easter 2011. Bill joyfully shared, “The Lord repaired the broken relationship between me and my family. He not only gave me life, but an abundant life; and not only hope but a living hope. I have been free for 4 years. I visit people of all ages and bring the Lord’s love into their homes. I was deeply touched when I witnessed the conversion and the baptism of those I visited.” Bill now has a new name – “Paul”. He is working in a bakery in HK, has a girlfriend whom he hopes to marry soon. He recently returned to Bangkok and joined Christian Prison Ministry Foundation in Thailand to visit prisoners.
Here are some extracts of letters Andrew received:
“I am a new Christian … may you encourage me by the Word of God.”
“My dearest loving brother Andrew and family, Greetings from me and all my sisters here in Ladyao … We are so happy to receive a blessing from you and from your ministry … I can’t give nothing in return to you for kindness to us. All I can give you is my love and prayers…. Thank you so very, very, very much!!!”
“I am Cambodian and my sentence is 25 years. I have been here 7 years. My friend Digna told me to write to you long time ago but I have no money to buy the stamps or aerogramme and I can’t write English. I thank God that Digna is able to help me write …”
“I am learning now as a teacher in my church. The leaders choose me to be teacher. I feel that this is a calling of God to serve Him and do what He wants me to do in this place … we have schedule to teach everyday. In my room every night I teach in English and every Sunday in my room, we are doing praises & I am the one who translate English to Thai or Thai to English … I pray that I can do my responsibility in my church here.”
“We are peaceful even we are facing hard time we survive by the help of our great God & Lord Jesus Christ. Our church here stands strong! We have a new pastor … we are continually doing fellowship day & night and continue to study the Bible. We are now in John chapter 3. It is very difficult for us to have outside visitors but God is our Provider and we have visit every day by the One who is our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
“I am writing this letter to ask you please if it is possible for me to receive a Bible and Bible correspondence from you. I want to learn more about God and build up my spirit, faith and knowledge. I was born into a Christian family and believe God is my Saviour and that He has died for our sins and His blood washed us clean.”
“For almost 2 years of my stay here in prison, I had heard and witnessed your kind and compassionate heart towards prisoners in disregard with their race and religion. I am from Bhutan country, 28 years old and have been blessed with two sons, 11years and 7 years old. My country Bhutan is considered to be a Buddhist country and I come from a Buddhist family. But I keep on believing that we have only one God … …”
“I believe that you’re one of the many instruments of God to help us in need physically & spiritually. When I was not in jail I never noticed the many blessings I received. I never said ‘Thank you Lord’. But here now a prisoner, there is no day that I don’t say ‘Thank you Lord.” When I wake up in the morning I thank Him for my life. Being in jail is really very hard but with God’s mercy and love I still have a life, a life that is full of hope. During the 4 years of my jail life I really know Him more. I know every blessing comes from Him… I believe He has a good plan for me. I really thank Him for all the people like you, who are always giving us spiritual and moral support. We love you with the love of the Lord.”