A Brazilian Seventh-day Adventist mother who launched a ministry to prisons after studying the Bible with her son’s murderer is one of the leaders behind an initiative to provide Bible studies to hundreds of inmates in Itabuna, Bahia.
Inmates in the Itabuna Prison in Brazil can now apply for a sentence reduction after completing a Bible course offered by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the area. On May 9, after a meeting with legal and management officers at the correctional facilities, the Adventist-born “Jesus at Prison School” Project was made official. On the same day, the first cohort of twelve students got their certificates after completing the Bible course offered by Adventists.
Course content is divided into 18 lessons, and spread out over five or six sessions which can be completed within a month, depending on prison activities. At the end of the course, students fulfilling the requirements get a certificate and the right to a sentence reduction of one day for 12-course hours.
Starting last March, the project has become part of a group of reinsertion initiatives at the Itabuna Prison. The project is part of Adventist Prison Ministries, whose local version was launched in 2014 by Márcia Santos, after her son was killed for getting involved in the local crime scene.
“A year after my son died, I met his murderer, and he became a kind of son to me,” Santos said. “As I was giving him Bible studies, God gave me a dream where He showed me step by step what to do for local inmates.”
Santos told how she then began praying for more members to get interested in prison ministries. “I asked God to send me more volunteers with a heart for this ministry,” she said, adding that she now feels every student is like one of her children.
For Itabuna Criminal Enforcement Judge Antônio Carlos Maldonado, the project benefits go well beyond a sentence reduction. At the May 9 meeting, when addressing the twelve students getting their course certificates, Maldonado discussed the rationale for the offer of a Bible course. “We don’t want you to serve sentences with no end, but to get ready to return to society,” he said. “And there is no better way of getting ready than [by studying] God’s Word.”
There are currently 1,290 inmates at the Itabuna Prison, and 400 of them have already shown interest in being part of the next Bible course cohorts. For Itabuna Prison director Adriano Jácome, taking part in the course will help inmates who finish to be better prepared for transitioning back into society once they serve their term. “These are people with limited terms, who will be back on the street at any moment,” he said. “We have seen that the ones who work on their beliefs, when they leave, they are different people.”
An inmate called Vandilson, who has spent 23 years in prison, said that the Bible course changed him for good. “I met God at a time when my life was a pity, a shame,” he said. “But through His Word, God was revealed to me, and I was able to find out what He wants for my life.”
Church evangelism director in the area Jucimar Noya invited more volunteers to get involved in prison ministries. “I invite more members to visit people in jail, and carry a message of hope to them,” he said. “I call members to show them that Jesus already rescued them [by His sacrifice] on the cross.”