On the day before Easter, I (Kristi) had the opportunity to accompany some of our Congolese friends to the Kananga prison. In Congo, prisoners do not have the same rights or provisions that they might in the US. For example, they only eat if a family member brings them food, they only have a lawyer if they have the ability to pay for one, and there is no provision for medical care. Some of the prisoners do not have family living locally, or their family gets tired of paying the steep fees required each time they bring food into the prison…so the prisoners are literally starving.
Our friends, Elder Simon Ntumba and Mama Therese Tshibola, had organized and prepared food to feed all of the 410 prisoners. That is a monumental feat…just 5 women cooked all of that food in 2 days, which requires significant strength for pounding manioc leaves and stirring huge pots of corn and manioc meal to make bidia.
When we arrived, all the prisoners gathered in a large open room. We filed in and stood at the front of the room. Several other church members had come, along with Pastor Thierre from Simon Ntumba’s church. Pastor Thierre gave a short introduction, led a few songs, and then prayed for all the prisoners. Another church member shared his own story of having been put in prison in another part of Congo, and how he had received a Bible and gained faith in God through someone who ministered to him in that prison. The prisoners seemed attentive and to welcome the messages and prayers of the people who spoke.
Pastor Thierre leads everyone in a song
After these brief words, the real show began – having lunch! The prisoners lined up single-file, and were sent to approach the food table 5 at a time. Our friend and missionary colleague, Ruth, who was also there, commented that nowhere else in Africa has she seen such orderly lines as that day at the prison!
A basin full of bidia mounds (the Congolese staple food). Each person gets one mound.
Several woman served bidia, greens, and fried fish as each prisoner came forward.
Each prisoner had to bring his own bowl/plate/container to eat the food from. Most had something to use, although for many it was only a plastic bag that the food was dropped into. The line of people seemed to continue forever, and the bidia was disappearing quickly! Often, someone would get to the table and say that they were getting a meal for 2 or 3 people, because someone was sick or had stayed behind. Sometimes true, sometimes an attempt to get extra food. Then the guards and the prison staff sent someone to get meals for all of them. Ruth and I were both getting very nervous that the food was going to run out way too soon, and some of the thinnest and weakest prisoners were at the end of the line. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen adults so thin and malnourished in my life!
While the prisoners were served food, Ruth and I got to talk to some of the women prisoners. We learned a little of their stories, saw where they stayed, and prayed for them. Of the 410 inmates, there are only 5 women. Only 2 of them have family living locally who can bring food, but they share with the others. Many of the men are not so fortunate.
In the end, there WAS enough food even for the last people in line, with some left over. We left that day sobered by what we had seen, and grieving over the suffering of the prisoners. I was so grateful for those who contributed the funds, time, and elbow grease to feed that many people. And I was grateful to have witnessed this expression of “helping the least of these”.
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one
of the least of these brothers of min, you did for me’” Matthew 25:40