Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
I, Ben, have been through an induction and training process that allows me to be part of the official chaplaincy work at Tidaholm prison. Every other week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the chaplains hold sessions in conjunction with visitors like me which involves a short service in the prison chapel followed by tea and cake and the opportunity to talk to the prisoners that attend. Tidaholm Prison is a security level one prison, “the highest security class of closed institutions. Institutions in security class 1 are equipped to handle the most dangerous inmates”. It has 178 male places. The prisoners are organised into blocks of about 30, and never mix with the other blocks in any of the activities, including during their visits to the chaplaincy. The blocks rotate so they all enjoy access to our visitor group sessions if they want it.
The work is headed up by a Deacon from the Swedish Church and a minister from a free-church denomination called Missionskyrkan (Mission church). Tidaholm lies about 45 mins north of where we live. Every week without fail I am hit with a huge emotional battle all the way until I sit and start talking to the prisoners. Its not unique to me either! I was talking with a friend on the way there once and we both shared that every week we experience such terrible oppression before we set off, during the whole journey and even during the service sometimes, but that this lifts when we begin the time with the prisoners and we end up feeling great!
Please pray for this work, that the oppression lifts or that I remain firm to continue each week despite it, and that in sharing my testimony and life with the men, that they find Christ and His wonderful love. Some of these men have life sentences for murder, but I find that the time spent chatting and sharing with them is just an absolute privilege and honour! Just by saying to them that we care, they can be moved to tears! I have truly seen the verses above made real in my life, in that I meet Jesus in ministering to these men. Most of them are foreign and have better English than Swedish, which means they love it when I come! The majority of prison visitors are also wonderful middle aged or older ladies so I feel a special honour to attend as a “young” man!
As well as praying for me each week, if anyone could sponsor me for the visits to help towards the costs that would be great!
There are 11 doors from this outside one to the chaplaincy, and I have to leave my mobile phone and other possessions in a safety box for the duration of my visit and pass through an airport style x-ray machine and security check to get in!