From Inmate to Instrument: Prison Ministry in Fiji

Peter Schultz is an Australian who has been running Christ-centred rehabilitation programs in Fijian prisons for the past 18 years. He develops and writes the programs before implementing and facilitating them. Doing Langham’s preaching training has helped him immensely in his ministry.

Following God’s call

Prison ministry is the last place Peter expected to end up. After a stint in jail in New South Wales for fraud, Peter never wanted to step foot in a prison ever again.

“I wanted to go back to business,” Peter admits. “Ministry was never part of the picture. But in 2005, God grabbed me by the collar and said, ‘Hey, this way, and for this purpose.’ So I came here in fear and trembling, without a sending church, without a mission organisation, a few suitcases, and met with prisons. Outlined what I thought God was leading in. And 18 years later, the prison door is still open, and we are still here. And I love it. I’m the happiest when I’m in prison.”

The lay of the land

Because Peter has lived in Fiji for almost two decades, he has a good grasp of the state of preaching locally. What he has observed is a high degree of church attendance that doesn’t always translate to an understanding of what it really looks like to live a Christian life.

“Most of our men and women in prison have grown up within the church,” Peter explains. “So they’ve attended Sunday school, they’ve attended church services. Church is something that’s been part of their journey, and yet here they are in prison. There’s a fairly significant disconnect.”

While Peter acknowledges that there are multiple factors contributing to the disconnect, he would argue that a big factor is the preaching.

“A lot of it comes back to the way in which we have understood the Word,” Peter says. “In our work, one of the most common phrases we hear is, ‘Why didn’t I hear this in church?’”

The role that Langham has played

Peter has experienced the benefits of Langham preaching training firsthand in his context with prisoners.

“All of our men and women when they come into prison know the major verses,” Peter says. “They know Jeremiah 29:11, they know John 3:16. And so those verses have been flagged and obviously preached and preached and preached and preached. So there are probably some key areas that have been preached well, at one level. What we don’t see a lot of is a wider context. What is the Word really trying to say to us? What’s the message within it? And this is where Langham does well to begin to bring context, to be able to break it down, to bring the questions to it. And it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got theological training or not, it’s open and available to everyone to participate in that process.”

Peter says that when someone arrives in prison in Fiji, they don’t usually have a clear understanding of sin.

“They’ve not really understood that Scripture speaks so profoundly to this, and gives answers to this and has the portrait of Christ as the redeemer,” Peter explains.

Peter is grateful for the way Langham has helped address this issue.

“Langham is very much equipped to be a grassroots movement,” Peter shares. “It doesn’t need a huge infrastructure around it. Preaching clubs can happen anywhere, in any context. So I see that as really, really valuable. I see that Langham’s heart was to just almost give it away. And so it allowed for the transfer of ownership into a Fijian context very quickly.”

Peter has seen his own preaching improve significantly after undertaking the training.

“I’m just following these simple basic processes that Langham teaches us,” Peter shares. “What’s the village view? What’s it saying? And am I allowing it to speak or am I presuming something and rushing off in a certain direction with it?”

For Peter, it’s not just the improvement in his own preaching that has been encouraging. It’s the way he’s seen the role Langham training plays in helping transform the lives of prisoners.

“What we’re seeing is the understanding that Scripture is the revelation of Christ,” Peter says. “There’s a lot of theological debate within prisons, but our team is now better equipped to be able to bring back the central theme of Scripture. At a foundational level, it’s easier to participate in those debates with confidence, knowing that the Scriptures will reveal. The Scriptures will speak.”

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