A group of Seventh-day Adventist members witnessed the first fruits of their evangelistic efforts as 55 inmates they had been visiting for years in a Brazilian prison decided to join the Adventist Church and were baptized on Sep. 16. Inmates are part of the nearly 150 people who have been studying the Bible every Saturday at the Itajaí Correctional Facility in Itajaí, Santa Catarina. The moving baptismal ceremony took place in a specially set up courtyard inside the prison walls.
An Early Start
Every Sabbath, visits to inmates start at 6:00 am and finish around 6:00 pm. Along the day, several worship services are organized. While volunteers miss the services at their home churches and spending more time with their families, they feel they are sharing God’s Word in a place where it is most needed.
“It is a group that took Jesus’ words in Matthew 25—‘I was in prison and you came to Me’—to heart,” said local pastor Antônio Mendes. “They love this ministry. Their dedication is bearing many fruits.”
“Salvation in Prison Ministries,” as volunteers have called their initiative, has been active for five years now, and depend mostly on four church members who are involved in weekly mission work in the men’s facility. As it often happens in similar cases, volunteers say they are the first to benefit from the exchange.
“It is a very fruitful activity, which brings many benefits [to inmates], but above all to us,” said church member volunteer Ubiratan Borba Barreto. “We are also being transformed.”
At the same time, he acknowledged the role of many “prayer warriors” who plead daily to God on behalf of the church members involved.
“We are the visible face of the project, but many church members in the city are praying for the initiative’s success,” said Barreto.
Baptism in Prison
The baptismal ceremony took place in one of the inner courtyards of the Itajaí prison and was conducted by Central-South Santa Catarina church region evangelist João Nicolau, and education director Homero Bubna. Uniart Vocal, a musical trio, provided inspiring music.
Guests shared they found the baptismal ceremony moving.
“It reminded me that salvation is for everyone,” said Uniart Vocal member Sandra Veiga Clemer. “Even though we sometimes emphasize our differences, we are all equal before God.”
Several inmates said they felt God was giving them another chance to start anew.
“I want a new life for me, my family, and people around me,” said Francisco Albuquerque, one of the baptized inmates. “I understand now that the only way is following God’s way.”
Robson Shuler Fortes, another of the baptized inmates, agreed.
“For the first half of my life, I have been away [from God],” he said. “Now I want to dedicate my second half to our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for our sins.”
A second baptism of another 15 inmates has been planned for Sep. 30, as more inmates finish Bible studies and make a commitment to follow Jesus. Many of them said they are thankful for the decision of local churches of reaching out.
“I feel thankful to the whole team of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” said baptized inmate Cleber Iguape dos Santos. “We pray every day that their ministry never ends.”
Dos Santos said he is also thankful to God for this opportunity to start anew.
“I have been in jail for 13 years now,” he said. “I lost my wife, and I lost my daughter, but I never lost Jesus’ love. I thank Him for this opportunity.”