PICTURE this. It is February 2007. About 100 people rise at the sound of the bell at 5.30 am. At 6 am, they are gathered in song and prayer at the morning devotion. After breakfast, they are off to their Bible classes till it is mid-morning and time for work.
At 3 pm, they gather as a community of believers once again for sharing and to pray for one another. After dinner, small groups gather for Christian courses and cell meetings. And just before bedtime, all members devote to Quiet Time with the Lord.
Church camp? No. Bible college? No. Prison rehabilitation programme?
Yes. Really. What man cannot fathom being possible, God will make a way.
Early 2006 marks the start of the new Christian faith-based rehabilitation programme launched jointly by the Prison Fellowship Singapore (PFS) and the Singapore Prison Service (SPS), named “Back to Genesis”.
Faith-based rehabilitation is an approach to offender rehabilitation that is Christ-centred. It seeks to achieve transformation within participants through the power of Jesus Christ and based firmly upon the Word of God. Participants undergoing the programme acquire Christian values and principles that guide their lives upon release from prisons.
Originating from Brazil in the 1970s, the movement known as APAC was founded – The Association for the Protection and Assistance of the Convicted, or “Amando al Proximo, Amaras a Cristo”, i.e., Loving your neighbour, you will love Christ. APAC survived numerous setbacks through the years, continuing to set many prisoners free through the power of Christ.
Since then APAC has become operational at various levels at more than 130 sites in 12 states throughout Brazil, as well as being replicated in a number of other Latin-American countries. Currently, countries such as the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan operate faith-based units within the correctional setting.
The evidence from rigorous evaluation conducted on programmes run in Brazil, the US and New Zealand testify to the awesome work of the Lord through faith-based rehabilitation.
Recidivism rates for participants in these programme were always way below the national averages (secular rehabilitation recidivism rates in these countries range from 25 to 60 per cent) compared with the rest of the prison population: 8 per cent in the United States, 7 per cent in New Zealand, and 16 per cent in Brazil.
“Back to Genesis” will run over three phases for a duration of up to 18 months for the pre-release (in-prison) phase and up to 12 months for the post-release (in-community) phase.
Work with families and children is crucial as incarceration has its impact on the participants’ family members as well. Programmes such as the “Angel Tree Programme”, reaching out to children of participants, will commence. Reconciliation between participants and families is also a key feature of Phase One. “The Sycamore Tree Project” will anchor the reconciliation component.
Yet another key component of “Back to Genesis” is the Mentoring Programme. Mentors from receiving churches in the community will be matched with a member of the programme. They will meet weekly in prison commencing at Phase 2 of the programme, and continuing till the member is released.
Upon release from prison, the members will continue their Christian walk in society and the community of believers in partnership with their mentors. The mentors will continue to support the reintegration of the participants, with support from aftercare managers, in the areas of employment, family relationships, church life and spiritual growth. The participants’ completion of the programme will come after 12 months of post-release.
The evaluation of the programme’s effectiveness will be given serious consideration.
With the projected success of this programme, the rate of growth over the next five years is expected to result in more than 1,000 prisoners being set free from the grasp of the enemy. These redeemed ones are also expected to be not only the fruits of the Lord’s harvest, but are also likely to be harvestors of fields. Men will return as pastors, Bible counsellors, addictions counsellors, aftercare specialists and mentors of future members of the programme.
A project of this magnitude calls for ministry workers to band together, united by His grace and love, and rise up to serve. “Back to Genesis” will require theologically-trained Bible counsellors, mentors, nurturing receiving churches, professionally-trained addiction counsellors, Christian employers, worship leaders and people with unique ministry skills.
If you feel led to be a part of this project or have further queries, please contact Mr Leon Stewart of PFS @ 6542-7678 (Office) or 9199-3815 (Mobile).
David Ong is the Executive Chairman of Prison Fellowship Singapore and Secretary to the International Board, Prison Fellowship International.