“Preach a Release to the Captives”

AT THE beginning of his ministry, Jesus declared that part of his commission was “to preach a release to the captives.” (Luke 4:18) Following the example of their Master, true Christians preach the Kingdom good news to “all sorts of men,” bringing them release from spiritual captivity and helping them to improve their life.—1 Timothy 2:4.

Today, this work includes preaching to literal captives—people who are imprisoned for various crimes and who appreciate a spiritual release. Enjoy this encouraging report about the preaching activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the prisons of Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe.

From Drug Addicts to Christians

Of the 38 years of Serhii’s* life, 20 have been spent behind bars. He even finished school in prison. He says: “Years ago, I was imprisoned for murder, and I still have time to serve. In prison I acted like a tyrant, and other prisoners were afraid of me.” Did this make him feel liberated? No. For many years, Serhii was enslaved to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

Then a fellow prisoner shared Bible truth with him. It was like a beam of light in the dark. Within a few months, he freed himself from his addictions, became a preacher of the good news, and was baptized. Serhii now leads a busy life in prison, serving as a full-time minister of Jehovah. He has helped seven criminals to change their ways and become his spiritual brothers. Six of them have been released, but Serhii remains behind bars. He is not upset at this because he is happy that he can help others to receive a release from spiritual captivity.—Acts 20:35.

One of Serhii’s students in prison was Victor, a former drug dealer and addict. After his release from prison, Victor continued to make spiritual progress and eventually graduated from the Ministerial Training School in Ukraine. Now he serves as a special pioneer minister in Moldova. Victor says: “I began smoking when I was 8, abusing alcohol at 12, and using drugs when I was 14. I wanted to change my life, but all my attempts failed. Then in 1995, just as my wife and I were planning to move away from my bad associates, she was stabbed to death by a homicidal maniac. My life became absolutely dismal. ‘Where is my wife now? What happens when a person dies?’ I kept asking questions but could find no answers. I took more and more drugs to fill the void. I was arrested for dealing drugs and was sentenced to five years in prison. There, Serhii helped me to find the answers. I had tried to break free from drugs many times, but only now with help from the Bible did I succeed. God’s Word is so powerful!”—Hebrews 4:12.

Hardened Criminals Change

Vasyl never used drugs, but he did not escape captivity. “Kickboxing was my addiction,” he explains. “I trained myself to beat up people without leaving any marks.” Vasyl used his violent ways to rob people. “I was in prison three times, which led my wife to divorce me. During the last five-year term, I got acquainted with the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This motivated me to read the Bible, but I was still involved in what I really loved—fights without rules.

“After six months of Bible reading, however, something changed within me. Winning a fight no longer brought me the satisfaction it once did. So I started to analyze my life in the light of Isaiah 2:4 and realized that unless I adjusted my thinking, I would spend the rest of my life in prison. So I threw out all my fighting gear and began to work on my personality. It was not easy, but meditation and prayer gradually helped me to kick my bad habits. At times, I tearfully begged Jehovah to give me the strength to break free from my addiction. Finally, I succeeded.

“After release from prison, I was reunited with my family. Now I work in a coal mine. This gives me enough time to share in the preaching work along with my wife and to fulfill my responsibilities in the congregation.”

Mykola and his friends robbed several banks in Ukraine. This resulted in a ten-year prison term for him. Before his incarceration, he had been to church only once—to prepare to rob that church. Things did not work out, but that visit made Mykola believe that the Bible must be full of boring stories about Orthodox priests, candles, and religious holidays. He says: “I do not know exactly why, but I began reading the Bible. I was amazed to discover that it was nothing like what I had imagined!” He asked for a Bible study and was baptized in 1999. Looking at him now, it is hard to believe that this humble ministerial servant was once a malicious armed bank robber!

Vladimir was given a death sentence. While awaiting execution, he prayed to God and promised to serve Him if he was spared. Meanwhile, the law was changed, and his death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment. To keep his promise, Vladimir began looking for the true religion. He enrolled in a correspondence course and received a diploma from an Adventist church, but he was not satisfied.

However, after reading the Watchtower and Awake! magazines in the prison library, Vladimir wrote to the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine, asking for a visit. When local brothers visited him, he already considered himself a Witness and was preaching in the prison. He was helped to qualify as a Kingdom publisher. As of this writing, Vladimir and seven others in that prison are awaiting baptism. But they have a problem. Since inmates with life sentences are kept in cells according to their religious beliefs, Vladimir and his cell mates are of the same faith. So to whom can they preach? They share the good news with prison guards and by writing letters.

Nazar moved from Ukraine to the Czech Republic, where he joined a gang of thieves. This led to three and a half years of imprisonment. While in prison, he responded to the visits of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the city of Karlovy Vary, learned the truth, and was fully rehabilitated. Seeing this, one of the security guards said to Nazar’s cell mates: “If all of you would be like that Ukrainian, I could finally change my profession.” Another said: “These Jehovah’s Witnesses are real experts. Into prison comes a criminal; out goes a decent man.” Now Nazar is back home. He learned carpentry and got married, and he and his wife are in the full-time ministry. How thankful he is for the prison visits of the Witnesses!

Official Recognition

Prisoners are not the only ones who are grateful for the service provided by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Miroslaw Kowalski, a spokesman for one of the prisons in Poland, said: “We appreciate their visits very much. Some prisoners have sad backgrounds. Probably they were never treated as human beings. . . . The help [of the Witnesses] is very valuable because we have a shortage of personnel and educators.”

The warden of another prison in Poland wrote to the branch office, asking the Witnesses to increase their activity in his prison. Why? He explained: “More frequent visits by Watchtower representatives may help the prisoners to develop socially desirable qualities, suppressing aggression among them.”

A Ukrainian newspaper reported on a depressed prisoner who attempted to commit suicide but then received help from Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Presently, this man is on the way to emotional recovery,” says the report. “He sticks to the prison routine and is an example to other prisoners.”

Benefits Beyond Prison Gates

The benefits of the work done by Jehovah’s Witnesses do not stop at the prison gate. They continue after the prisoners are released. Two Christians, Brigitte and Renate, have been helping people in this way for some years. A German newspaper, Main-Echo Aschaffenburg, reports about them: “They look after prisoners for three to five months after their release, encouraging them to find a purpose in life. . . . They have been officially recognized as volunteer probation officers. . . . They also have constructive and positive dealings with the prison personnel.” A number of people have dedicated their life to Jehovah as a result of this kind of help.

Even prison officials benefit from the Bible education work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, Roman was a military major and a psychologist in a Ukrainian prison. When the Witnesses visited his home, he agreed to a Bible study. Then he learned that the Witnesses were not permitted to contact the inmates where he worked. So he asked the warden for permission to use the Bible in his work with the prisoners. His request was granted, and about ten prisoners showed interest. Roman regularly shared his growing Bible knowledge with these prisoners, and his efforts produced excellent results. After being released, some continued to make progress and became baptized Christians. Seeing the power of God’s Word, Roman took his study more seriously. He left the military and continued in his Bible education activities. Now he shares in the preaching work with a former prisoner.

“Here we live on the Bible, Bible publications, and Bible study,” wrote one prisoner. These words well describe the need that exists in some prisons for Bible literature. One congregation in Ukraine reports about the Bible education work in a local prison: “The administration is thankful for the literature we provide. We supply them with 60 copies of each issue of The Watchtower and Awake!” Another congregation writes: “We care for a correctional facility that has 20 small libraries. We provided each library with our main publications. This amounted to 20 boxes of literature.” In one prison, the guards maintain a file of our magazines in the library so that prisoners can benefit from every issue.

In 2002 the branch office in Ukraine established a Prison Desk. Thus far, the desk has contacted about 120 correctional facilities and has assigned congregations to care for them. Every month about 50 letters from prisoners are received, most of them requesting literature or asking for a Bible study. The branch sends books, magazines, and brochures to them until local brothers can contact them.

“Keep in mind those in prison bonds,” wrote the apostle Paul to his fellow Christians. (Hebrews 13:3) He was referring to those who were imprisoned for their faith. Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses keep in mind those who are incarcerated, visit prisons, and “preach a release to the captives.”—Luke 4:18.

[Footnote]

Some names have been changed.

[Picture on page 9]

Prison wall, L’viv, Ukraine

[Picture on page 10]

Mykola

[Picture on page 10]

Vasyl with his wife, Iryna

[Picture on page 10]

Victor