Unbeknownst to many, the Taipei Prison in Guishan, Taoyuan County houses over 140 foreign inmates from about 18 nations. For eleven consecutive years, a group of Christians show kindness to the inmates by bringing gifts and love. The inmates, of course, are nothing more than perfect – many of whom were implicated for drug-related violations. Nonetheless, many of the inmates face great suffering. Amongst the biggest of the suffering is the feeling of loneliness.
Most of the inmates are from Southeast Asia. However, there are also inmates from Northeast Asia, Western Europe, Africa, South American, and North America. Inmates are only allowed two outgoing calls per year. Since the inmates are far from home, family visits are virtually non-existent. Most of the inmates face isolation, language-barriers, and difficulties in terms of cultural adaptation. Local inmates have the benefit of receiving family members during the Lunar New Year. For foreign inmates, many past the New Year without hope of seeing family members.
In an effort to bring hope to the inmates, the Lighthouse Ministry each year come to inmates to tell them that they are loved. “When I first got involved with this ministry and visiting foreign inmates, many of them burst into tears because no one had ever visited them before,” says Gwen “Sunny” Bajoras who is a correctional counselor for foreign inmates.
Nonetheless, there were difficult times dealing with some inmates – many of whom have closed their hearts to love and regard charity in any from with suspicion. Despite this, Bajoras says, she has witness countless times when inmates changed in large part thanks to prayer and witnessing true Christian faith.
“There was one inmate from Southeast Asia who had an attitude problem during my first visit, where at one point he was daring me," Bajoras said. "For a while after that I refused to pay him another visit.” Bajoras later shared about how the inmate gradually became a believer. Afterwards, he changed. Later he was release from prison, and he went home a devout Christian.
Currently he is with his family, and seriously considering starting a Christian ministry for inmates in his home country.
The Lighthouse ministry is a prison-aide program run by several English-speaking churches in Taiwan. The idea of starting the Lighthouse ministry started in 1990 when the family begged the pastor of a local English-speaking church in Taiwan to visit their son in prison. The pastor visited the prison and discovered many un-reached inmates.
Over the years, the Lighthouse ministry organizes “goody bags” for prisoners – including foreign magazine publications, assorted toiletry items, and coffee. Organizing this activity, however, is no easy task.
“Churches such as the Taipei International Church, Oasis Christian Fellowship and Friendship Presbyterian Church have supplied both manpower and donations,” says Jon Brantingham said. “During the Christmas seasons, some churches have special offerings for the Christmas party.” Jon is a successful American businessman who has spent more than a decade living in Taiwan, and is fluent in Mandarin. Though Brantington no longer resides in Taiwan, he still comes once a year to organize the prison-aide event.
Last week, Brantington organized a dinner event for the inmates. Every Christmas season, Christian volunteers would organize a dinner for inmates. This year, about 80 volunteers helped set the table for the inmates. Also present were Catholic nuns from Japan and Europe, and missionaries from Thailand and Indonesia. Each of the groups offered their own home-cook recipes to the evening banquet. The inmates had a choice of International recipes ranging from American-style fried chicken to Cantonese-style roast duck. After eating, the inmates would spend the evening singing and reading Bible verses aloud. Leaving the event, the inmates would break out in smiles. “It is sobering to see the same guys year after year,” Brantingham said. “It just hits home how long they've been in here.”
Just why the prisoners find hope in the Bible is a testimony of the loving grace of the Lord. This hope is what allows the inmates to live year after year confined in prison. It is in this period that many inmates come to open their hearts in Christ. Once finishing their sentences, many Christian inmates are not just freed from the confines of prison, but also freed from the that of sin through the message of the gospel.