Volunteers step up to offer spiritual and physical support to inmates and their families.
For more than 30 years after the fall of communism in Romania in 1989, Adventist prison ministries volunteers ran weekly visits to dozens of penitentiaries across the country. Adventist visitors offered social, medical, educational, and moral-spiritual programs. Prison ministries leaders reported that the Word of God was presented in various seminars and sermons, baptism preparation classes, and individual Bible studies.
Hope Channel television is available in every cell in penitentiaries across Romania, so that inmates can watch non-stop spiritual, educational, or family programs. Over the years, hundreds of inmates have received Christ as their personal Savior and have been baptized.
“It is challenging to live in a penitentiary and even harder to be a true Christian in that environment,” Adventist leaders said. “However, even in that place and with so many challenges at every step, inmates who accept Christ can live beautiful, clean, and holy lives.”
Significant Changes in 2020
All of this changed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. All programs were suddenly stopped, and all outreach activities were banned. For the first time in decades, volunteers had to stay outside the prison walls.
COVID-19 hit the inmates’ lives hard.
After the period of total lockdown, Adventist prison ministries began to correspond through written letters with detainees. For the older volunteers, it was practically a return to the 1990s, when letters were the only means of keeping in touch with detainees.
“Facing this new reality, those volunteering with prison ministries tried to help with everything we could, as the penitentiary system was suddenly subject to challenges and unforeseen expenses,” ministry leaders reported. “We donated protective masks, gloves, plastic spoons, soap, and sanitizer to the units in need.”
An Adventist prison ministries volunteer coordinates a meeting livestreamed into one of the prisons in Romania. Despite the COVID-19-related restrictions, church members and leaders have managed to continue providing spiritual support to inmates across the nation. [Photo: Romania Adventist Prison Ministries, Inter-European Division News]
In Romania, Adventist prison ministries is also providing support to some of the inmates’ families, many of which live in poverty and lack basic necessities. [Photo: Romania Adventist Prison Ministries, Inter-European Division News]
At the end of summer 2020, officials gave the ministry the option of launching online meetings with detainees. Adventist leaders said it was a challenge, as many prisons lacked computers beyond their administrative offices. Also, in the past, the internet had been banned in Romanian prisons.
Adapting to the New Normal
The government launched an unprecedented drive to equip prisons with computers, in order to offer detainees the opportunity to meet with family, teachers, lawyers, external collaborators, and church representatives such as pastors and priests. Adventist prison ministries also tried to help. “Our ministry collected old computers and used laptops that we then sent to prisons,” Adventist leaders reported.
Another challenge was with volunteers themselves, some of whom are seniors. “Some volunteers had never used a computer before, and they found it was not easy for them to learn at their age,” ministry leaders shared. “But either by computer or by phone, we launched online meetings with the inmates. And we soon began working on some correspondence programs.”
Adventist prison ministries also started to record sermons at members’ homes to send to the penitentiaries. When the internet stops working, it is helpful to have a recorded sermon handy, leaders explained.
Adventist prison ministries also focused on working with the inmates’ families outside prisons. Volunteers visited low-income families, where children often went without food. “Donors contributed food, clothing, wood for heating, and school supplies,” leaders shared. “Thanks to the financial support from various sponsors, we also provided home restorations, medicines, and other items as needed,” they added.
“Adventist prison ministries in Romania is involved in initiatives never tackled before,” ministry leaders said. “But we are not giving up. We have a great God who gives us strength, blessings, and success.”