I'll tell you a story about a family of five daughters and a father who was involved in shop lifting. It is a story that is very similar to the Biblical story of Philemono and his run away slave. We started a ministry in our church that was meant to help families who's fathers had trouble with the courts in Soweto. A woman related to us the story of misery that was about to descend upon her household. Her husband who was a gambler and a shoplifter was due to appear in court in a few days time. The court decision put them in danger of losing their home and having the five daughters kicked out of school. They could also loose their furniture and other possessions. This situation was brought to our attention during the weekend.
Early in the following week one of the leaders of the church met "a man" who asked for a lift to go into town. Without the elder realizing it, he had picked up the man about whom we had had discussions over the weekend. This "man" was actually going to an Indian shop to try and negotiate with the owner to see if the charges against him withdrawn. He wanted to arrange for some kind of an out of court settlement. He knew that since he had a suspended sentence from an earlier conviction he did not stand a chance once he came before the magistrate. The elder in our church had simply picked this man up and had given him a lift into town. Only when we discussed the matter at the church did it dawn on him as to who he had given a lift to. The story of the family was discussed further and it was decided that we should attend the trial and try as much as possible to intervene and plead on behalf of the man. The elder who had given the man a ride was really surprised but at the same time pleased to recognize that all things do work together for good to those that are called according to His purposes. He recounted his experience with the " man" with much appreciation and feeling.
We decided to do all we could to help the family. I went to court and asked the magistrate to give him a break so that we could work with the family. Because the man was considered a habitual criminal he was given a six months sentence.
In apartheid South Africa, short term prisoners were sold to white farmers as indentured servants to work on their farms or gardens. The prisoner would be required to work for the white person who literally bought him for the remainder of his sentence. The white person would be expected to secure the prisoner every night and make sure that he did not escape. This seemed to give us a window of opportunity. If we could arrange for some benevolent white person to "buy " this man we might be able to carry on with his rehabilitation under more favorable conditions than the deplorable situations of the South African prisons. So we contacted a man I knew who ran a printing factory. We managed to convince him to go in and help me get this "man".
The problem that we encountered was that you were not allowed to dictate which prisoner you wanted since people could easily arrange a release of a friend or relative through such an arrangement. We adopted the family and helped them out while the man was in prison. Meanwhile we worked out a way to connect a white man from the factory to the prisoner with the idea of maybe being able to "buy" the prisoner we wanted. We told him to go in and describe exactly the kind of person he wants. We got him to go in and do this. Out comes the prisoner and the white guy says "Oh no, not this guy. This guy has already cleaned me out!!!"
You know the story of Onesimus. Onesimus was a slave who had run away. He encounters Paul and Paul writes a letter to the slave master and tells him, "If I am your father in the faith then you should treat this slave as you would treat me." It is the same type of story. So we convince the white guy to accept the prisoner. Now with the prisoners, usually the rules for work release are very strict. However, the white man says that since you are connected to the church I will let you go home every night. So we had to guarantee this. The prisoner was able to go home every night. The prisoner has five daughters--one is now studying in the states. I think this story is important is because it illustrates the commitment of the church to help every person. We are going to go deep with individuals its not just superficial help.