By Stan Friedman
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC (March 15, 2012) – Lea had not seen a reflection of herself the entire nine and a half years spent in prison, so it was an overwhelming experience last Friday after she was released and then stopped at a restaurant with Evangelical Covenant Church missionary Kelly Prudek.
“She stopped and stared – and was just stunned,” says Kelly, who had visited Lea throughout her prison stay. “The experience was overwhelming in joy, and stress and anxiety. It was a privilege to be with her.”
Prudek has teamed up with Gabriela Kabatova, co-founder and the director of Prison Fellowship International Czech Republic, to minister to female inmates in a variety of ways over the past six years. Lea, who became a Christian while in prison, was one of those women.
Lea had no family and nowhere to go until several days before her release when a Lutheran pastor told Kabatova that there was an open slot for one person in transitional housing she supervises. Prudek and Kabatova picked up Lea at the prison gates and drove her to the house.
“There was a tangible sense of God’s presence at the house,” says Prudek, who will continue to minister to Lea. “I spoke to her on Saturday, and she’s doing well.”
In the past, church involvement in Czech prisons has been limited by prison administration, but due to the world financial situation, the government is welcoming assistance from churches wanting to provide aid to inmates, including programs that will help them return to society.
The Covenant and other faith groups are now working with Prison Fellowship to expand their ministry to the women by developing a church-based community support network for prisoners and ex-prisoners. Components of the ministry include finding housing and jobs. There is little after-care currently available, and the recidivism rate is as high as 60 percent, says Prudek.
Prudek and Kabatova have met with several groups of women each month. One group includes 12 inmates chosen by prison psychologists as people who would benefit from aftercare ministry, but have no one.
Prudek and Kabatova start working with the women up to two years before the prisoners’ release with the goal of promoting reconciliation. “We want to walk with them through a process of what they’ve done, how they would like to change their life, and how they would like to seek reconciliation – especially to Christ,” Prudek says.
One of the ways they hope to advance the reconciliation process is to enable women to make “video letters” the inmates can send to estranged family members or victims.
The ministry has started a small network of churches to help provide aftercare, and Prudek says it is growing, but a lot of work needs to be done to get other congregations and individuals involved. She is meeting with a new group of volunteers this weekend.
Friends of World Mission have chosen the ministry as their focus this month. Money raised for the project will pay for New Testaments to be sent to all 23,000 inmates in the system, a part-time project leader, office supplies, a laptop computer and expenses for traveling to and from the prisons.
Donations can be mailed to Friends of World Mission, 8303 W. Higgins Road, Chicago, IL, 60631. Please note “FOWM Project 203” on memo line. Donations also can be made online.