Last week VOM received the wonderful news that the High Court in Tanzania had thrown out the charges against Eva Abdallah, a young Christian woman who had been falsely accused of urinating on a Quran and sentenced to two years in prison.
Eva is one of the prisoners that VOM has featured on www.PrisonerAlert.com, a Web site established to help Christians in the free world write letters of encouragement to Christians imprisoned for their faith in restricted and hostile nations.
If you've been to PrisonerAlert, you may have wondered why some Christian prisoners are featured on the site, and others are not. Here are some of the criteria we consider before adding someone to PrisonerAlert:
The first thing VOM needs in order to feature a prisoner on PrisonerAlert is the blessing of their family and/or in-country church leaders. There are some families and local leaders that feel that international publicity and receiving lots of letters from overseas would make a situation worse for the prisoner. They also sometimes fear that there would be repercussions against the family if information about the prisoner is made public internationally.
As we gather more release stories to give as examples, like Eva's, we are able to alleviate some of these fears. We know of no one who has suffered worse treatment in prison after receiving letters. But we do NOT post a prisoner to PrisonerAlert without the blessing of our in-country contacts who can seek out the opinion of the prisoner's family or church group. Our in-country contacts work with us to verify information and provide details. In some cases they even go to the prison and meet the prisoner face-to-face, praying with and encouraging them.
In order to post a prisoner, VOM needs four pieces of information:
2. PHOTO (we have used an artist's sketch on some occasions, but ideally would like to have a photo)
3. BRIEF STORY about their case (when were they arrested? What are the charges against them? Where are they at in the court process?)
4. The MAILING ADDRESS of the prison where they are being held. While there is an advocacy portion of PrisonerAlert, allowing people to write letters to the government officials, the first aim of the site is for people to write letters TO THE PRISONER and mail them TO THE PRISON. Our readers can't do that without an address.
Sometimes we may have all of this information, but we don't have approval from the prisoner's family or church group. In other cases we may know the person is in prison, but the government doesn't acknowledge that fact or release their prison location.
The letters are making a difference, as we see from the release of Eva and other Christians who have been featured on the site. As one of our Tanzanian contacts said upon Eva's release, "God bless you so much for your constant intercessory prayers. I really believe in prison letters, they are very effective beyond reasonable imagination!"
Have you prayed specifically for a Christian in prison for their faith? Have you used the letter-writing tool on PrisonerAlert to write a letter to a prisoner? Share your stories in the comments below.