For the Love of ... Prisoners
October 1, 2003 - Eight-year-old Joel cowered in a corner as soldiers yanked his father away from the family's evening meal and arrested him.
by Noël Piper
Joel's mother knew about the starvation and rot in the deadly prisons of Guinea's brutal dictator, Sekou Touré, so she edged toward her husband with one last bowl of rice. A soldier grabbed it and ground it into the dirt. As Joel's father strained toward his family to say good-bye, soldiers snatched him away, tossed him onto a truck bed and hauled him off. He remained a political prisoner for five years, until Touré died in 1984.
The humiliation of that night in 1979 haunted Joel Loramou—and the desire for revenge drove him and shaped his life.
But God had other plans for him. In the early 1990s, Loramou, a son of animists, heard the preaching of a traveling evangelist. After that, he says, "God, in His mercy, changed my vengeful spirit. I began to ask myself what I could do to help people in the same situation as my parents, and children who are in the same situation as I was."
Another four years passed, however, before Loramou could bring himself to set foot inside a prison. But he began to pray for prisoners and their families, and in 1997 God led him to begin distributing food, medicine, clothing and Bibles to prisoners and their families. Whenever he saw inmates who were his father's age he wept, remembering the agony his father had suffered.
By God's grace, the elder Loramou survived and was released. He has contributed in practical ways to his son's prison ministry, even though he is not yet a Christian himself.
After working mostly alone for three years, Loramou received financial aid from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to travel to Europe for Amsterdam 2000. Through the conference, God granted new resources and power to Loramou's ministry in Guinea—and brought him together with Tobias Merckle and other Prison Fellowship International (PFI) representatives.
"I was amazed to find an international organization that has the same [ministry focus] I have in my country," Loramou said. "I immediately understood that my discovery was not a coincidence." PFI added Guinea to the countries in which it works, and Loramou became its Guinea-Conakry executive director.
The Central Prison in Conakry is Loramou's personal ministry focus. Travel guidebooks claim that Guinea is the second-poorest country in the world. Here, prisoners are forgotten as if they were non-people. Steve McFarland, a PFI vice president, said that Central Prison is one of the worst he's ever seen—and he's seen many. Each 25-foot-square cell block is bare stone with no furniture or bedding for the 60-some prisoners it houses. Inmates take turns climbing a pile of blocks for their 15 minutes beside a small, grated window near the 20-foot-high ceiling—the only source of light and air for the room.
Until recently, water had to be hauled by hand, and each cell block received only four gallons a day to be rationed among all the cell's inmates. Drainage ditches of the open latrine system weave across the courtyard and through each cell block. Prisoners have no escape from the raw sewage when the latrine overflows.
Loramou and his wife, Phebean, minister from a small house they share with relatives. They own no house or means of transportation, and they have no financial resources to improve sanitary conditions in the prison. But through PFI, a new latrine system is under construction and a water pump began operation in May.
Loramou describes the jubilation of the inmates as the water was turned on: "Shouts of joy were coming from the cells one after another as the water began to run," he said, adding that the water pump gave him added credibility with the prisoners and penitentiary authorities of Conakry. He prays that the running water will lead many to drink deeply of the Living Water of Jesus Christ.
The Loramous have teamed up with a Christian baker, Ismael Keita, to deliver 1,000 loaves of bread to the prison every month. Prisoners, whose daily ration is one bowl of rice, receive the long, golden baguettes as if they were real gold.
Christians are the only ones who bring bread, so when Loramou speaks about Christ, prison officials and inmates listen. One prisoner described his first taste of the Bread of Life: "I was put into prison in December 2002," he said. "I spent four days in a cell with no food or visitors. I was dying. On the fifth day, Christians, whom I once hated, visited me. They gave me bread. It strengthened me, and I was able to stand up. They spoke to me of Jesus' love while I was eating their bread. I then understood that these Christians serve a real God of love and that it is His love that motivates them to give food to me, a Muslim. When these Christians come to the prison, they make no distinction between people. I'm alive today because of Jesus' love for me. I gave my life to this Jesus who visited me and fed me in prison."
The Loramous, realizing how God has strengthened their ministry through partnership with other like-minded Christians, want to help build a network outside the prison walls as well.
Under the auspices of PFI, and in partnership with Grace Community Church of Tyler, Texas, the Loramous organized a local pastors' conference. More than 120 pastors and church leaders received biblical teaching and encouragement for four days last April. In a predominantly Muslim country, this vital ministry provides many pastors who are first-generation Christians with an opportunity for solid biblical training.
Jean-Fodé Bangoura, who oversees the Open Bible churches of Conakry, spoke for many of the participants when he said that he was transformed by the teachings on forgiveness. In the 1980s, Bangoura was listed among Sekou Touré's "100 most wanted," and he spent time in prison for his faith. As planter of the first evangelical church in Conakry, Bangoura is held in special esteem by his fellow ministers. They know that, from a human perspective, he has had reason to be an angry and bitter man. But forgiveness has given him the freedom to forgive. This is the freedom that both pastors and prisoners are tasting in Guinea, thanks in part to Joel Loramou, who learned forgiveness because of God's mercy to him.