WASHINGTON, DC (FR) – In late October, Prison Fellowship, a reform ministry founded by Charles Colson, began working within the Soviet Union in order to provide a Christian presence in the Soviet prison system.
Soviet citizens interested in working in prisons as an expression of their Christian faith were presented with four workshops by Ron Nikkel, president of Prison Fellowship International. The convocation was held in Moscow October 22-28.
“My general thrust will be to get these 850 Christian Soviet leaders connected with the Prison Fellowship Committee,” said Nikkel. “The convocation is geared toward learning new ways of Christian outreach. The organizers have invited resource people from a variety of areas and since prisons are high on their list, we were invited to participate.”
The four workshops presented methods for building relationships with prisoners and communicating the Gospel in light of prisoners’ needs. Nikkel and Robert Babb of Prison Fellowship’s Frankfurt office also worked with church leaders on how to mobilize volunteers for ministry.
Soviet Christians Organize
Organization of Christian volunteers for prison work began in April this year when Nikkel and Charles Colson visited the Soviet Union and received permission from Vadim Bakatin, Soviet minister of internal affairs, to go into the prisons with religious programming.
“Our prisons are open to you,” Bakatin told Colson at the time. “This is what we need in the Soviet Union.”
Consequently, Prison Fellowship International coordinated a national conference on prison ministry in Kiev last July. There, 200 people assembled and elected a committee, deciding to choose one representative from each of seven geographic regions.
“I was amazed that they followed a true democratic process,” Nikkel observed. “There were nominations, then a long and heated debate preceding the elections. There were winners, but it was not unanimous. So they broke for prayer, then met again and concluded with a unanimous vote for the chosen representatives.”
He observed that this is a Quaker tradition and that a number of Quaker traditions appear among Soviet Christians.
Christian Radio Programming
In addition, Nikkel said, Prison Fellowship will investigate the possibility, with Trans-World Radio, of broadcasting Christian programming five days a week, by and for prisoners.
“They do have radios in the prisons,” he said, “and we are thinking of initiating Christian fellowship groups within the prisons to gather for the broadcast for learning and encouragement.”