February 19, 2020 |

When Heaven Invades a Jail Cell

* Names and locations have been changed for security reasons.

Being a Young Life leader in Africa and the Middle East looks different from village to village and country to country. Young Life leaders on the continent of Africa and in the Middle East, however, have common ground; they are often willing to put their lives on the line to love the kid in front of them with the love of Jesus. Despite religious and political conflict, persecution, medical epidemics, etc., leaders in Africa and the Middle East are so convinced of the worthiness of Jesus that they will go to any measure to tell others about Him.

Emmanuel is one of those leaders. He models what it looks like to love Jesus with no restraint, being willing to step out of the boat of safety and comfortability to tell young people in his country about Jesus.

In East Africa, there is a refugee camp that is home to over 800,000 refugees from two other war-torn African countries. These refugees live within the walls of the refugee camp and are separated by a single road. The camp is full of hatred between the two people groups. It is a very hostile place to live, full of many hurting people who have been separated from their families and are aching to go home to their countries.

Three years ago, Young Life leaders started praying about this refugee camp and asking God how they could reach people within the walls of this camp where 80% of the population is under 25 years old. Emmanuel was one of two leaders who were deployed to start ministry within the camp.

In December of 2018, Emmanuel and another Young Life leader went to this refugee camp alongside a water mission NGO. It is extremely difficult to be allowed within the walls of the camp, but because Emmanuel was able to partner with a humanitarian organization, they were able to enter the camp. Emmanuel and the other leader stayed within the walls of the camp for one week doing continuous contact work. They prayed as they walked through the streets, put on a couple of clubs and made divine connections with potential Young Life leaders in the camp. While they were there, they identified five key leaders who they could minister to and equip to do ministry once the two leaders had left. To their surprise, one of the key leaders they found was a camp kid who gave his life to Jesus through Young Life in his home country! Emmanuel has been keeping in touch with the identified key leaders but has not been able to return to the camp since December of 2018.

On November 16, 2019, however, Emmanuel traveled more than six hours back to the refugee camp. His goal was to try to receive more information on how he could get back into the camp more frequently to check up on how ministry is doing. The first stop he made was at the immigration office just outside of the camp. He told the immigration officers that he was there to meet young people, but he needed help getting the right papers. These officers sent him to go and see the head officer of the refugee camp. When Emmanuel went to this head officer and told him his intent of visiting the camp, the officer did not believe him. In fact, he was convinced that Emmanuel was coming to sneak in and do illegal things in the refugee camp. The officer immediately called the police to come and arrest Emmanuel. He ordered that he was not to come out of prison for at least three days and then he was to appear in court. The police took him to jail where he was put into a cell with five other men. One of the men who was in this shared cell, Peter, was the head of the rebel group who led efforts to violently overthrow the current president of his home country. He is one of the most hated men in his country. The other men in the cell with Emmanuel were murderers and were in jail for extreme crimes.

When Emmanuel entered the cell he said he immediately felt that God wanted him to start praying fervently. He prayed for a long time and then he began to worship aloud. He eventually invited the men in the cell to sing with him and to his surprise, they all did. They started to sing and worship at the top of their lungs. The police came to the cell to see what was going on and when they did, they began worshiping with Emmanuel and the other inmates! Heaven invaded the jail cell and four of the five inmates, including Peter, gave their life to Jesus. Not only that, many of the policemen were also saved. Praise God! After this occurred, the inmates and new friends of Emmanuel asked why he was in jail and he replied, “I now know that I am here to preach the gospel.”

Well-seasoned Young Life staff in Africa immediately deployed others to the go to the refugee camp to try to help get Emmanuel out of jail. Emmanuel ended up spending two nights in jail and was released around 3pm on November 18th with all charges dropped! Since 3pm is very late to get any transportation for the six hour journey back home, the head officer himself provided Emmanuel and those who came to help with transportation to the nearest village where they could get public transport! The favor shown is none other than the favor of the Father himself.

When reflecting on the events of these days, a Young Life Africa staff person said, “I feel like God really wanted Emmanuel to go to jail so that he could minister to those five men whom God had not forgotten about or overlooked. I’ve realized that there are often ‘walls’ that God might be sending us to in our own lives. Whenever difficult situations come and we ask God why He is allowing them and don’t get an answer, it is usually because God wants us to do something that otherwise we would never be able to do. My hope is that this story would encourage us to spend time thanking God not only for the good things, but also for the hard things that He has allowed in our lives that have most likely caused someone to know Christ or caused blessings in our lives that otherwise would not be possible.”

God is still working through this event. Young Life now has extreme favor from the officers to get into the camp and minister to the 800,000 refugees there more freely. Leaders all across Africa and the Middle East, are committed to the marginalized and forgotten, and to the rebel and the refugee. And just like Emmanuel demonstrated, they are willing to put their lives and their reputations on the line for the sake of the one true king! Join us in worshiping and thanking the Lord for His faithfulness. He is the Way-maker and Miracle-worker today and every day!



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