Although the prison in East Africa has about 650 inmates, Josh Shaarda only expected a small group to show up for the first Bible study he was leading there. But he was in for a surprise.
“About 180 men were present and waiting for me,” said Shaarda. “I was like ‘wow...God is awesome.’”
And each week, almost all of the men kept showing up! Shaarda and his wife, Mandy, are partner missionaries with Resonate Global Mission in East Africa. Their primary role is to teach discipleship skills with Freedom in Christ Ministries, a Resonate partner ministry.
Shaards said his Bible studies had a message that struck a chord with the inmates.
“We focused on understanding our identity in Christ, on winning the battle for our minds, on believing truth and living according to it, and on specific confession of sin,” said Shaarda.
Sharing these truths with inmates has yielded stunning results.
“Nearly every week we offer an invitation for people to receive Jesus as their personal Savior,” Shaarda noted. “One week God’s Spirit stirred and nine men came forward.”
After release from prison, one of the inmates invited Shaarda to a service at his village church in which he shared his testimony.
“I met Jesus in prison,” the inmate proclaimed. “I learned that my identity comes from what Jesus did for me, not from what I do…. The day I learned that I wept and gave my life to Jesus.”
The prison guards have also seen a tangible difference.
“Inmates rarely try to escape now,” said one guard. “The church’s presence in the prison has… changed the way inmates treat each other, the way inmates treat officers, and the way officers treat inmates.”
Throughout this experience, Shaarda has grown increasingly amazed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“The gospel of Christ can be received by anyone, regardless of circumstances, and lead to transformation.”
Shaarda said he doesn’t want his prison ministry to end. He hopes to expand his reach by training ward pastors (inmates chosen by their peers to lead) and helping people as they transition out of prison.
“I do hope to go back to the prison and begin ministering again. Lord willing, we will also explore the opportunity to minister in other prisons as well.”