The following article, including the story of Esther Klaassen, was published on PFI’s website – Global link – and sent as encouragement to all national ministries.
Enocent Silwamba, Esther Klaassen, Peter Holloway, and Libby Taggart share their stories of how God called them to work alongside Him in prison service.
Each one of us has a story of how God worked in our hearts to call us to relationship with Him, work alongside Him, and become passionate for prison service. Today, we get to hear four testimonies of Prison Fellowship leaders around the world about how this occurred in their lives—Enocent Silwamba, Esther Klaassen, Peter Holloway, and Libby Taggart.
Enocent Silwamba was attending theological college when he was first invited to speak at a prison evangelistic outreach—which was actually organised by Prison FellowshipZambia. This outreach took place in the same prison his own father, a year earlier, had served a three-month sentence. Though Enocent had vowed during his first and last visit to his incarcerated father to never have anything to do with prison, he spoke at the outreach event. Afterwards, he stayed in contact with PF Zambia and receive their newsletters and prayer bulletins.
After leaving college, Enocent took a pastoral appointment with his church. Two years later, he and his wife felt God leading them away from pastoring in a local church, but did not know where or what was next. Enocent received a notice that PF Zambia needed a national chaplain. He applied and was given the job after a long selection process.
At that point, 26 years ago, prison ministry became Enocent’s life sentence—in the best possible way. Today, he serves as Prison Fellowship International’s regional director for Anglophone Africa.
After living in China and working with blind and deaf children there, Esther Klaassen wondered how she could serve the Chinese people in her country, The Netherlands. One day, after praying with friends about this, Prison Fellowship The Netherlands (Gevangenenzorg Nederland)—of which she hadn’t heard of before—called and asked if she spoke Chinese and was willing to visit Chinese women in prison as a volunteer.
“Yes!” Esther said, without hesitation.
It was a challenge to visit 30 women each week, so Esther organised group sessions. They talked, sang songs, and prayed. Esther listened to their stories and worries, translated letters from lawyers, dried tears, and anything else that was needed. In the meantime, PF The Netherlands asked her to consider working with them on a new restorative justice programme, the Sycamore Tree Project®. That’s was 13 years ago.
Coming from a totally different world of working with blind and deaf children, Esther nonetheless felt at home serving within prisons from day one. She was especially happy for the opportunity to work with offenders and victims, building bridges of understanding and restoration. Over the years, more restorative justice programmes came into existence, and many volunteers became connected and committed. A year ago, Esther transitioned to a new position with Priason Fellowship Albania/Sh.K.B.Sh. and works as a directing manager to serve the prisoners and support the workers there.