Nineteen inmates of the Viana Penitentiary Establishment in Luanda, Angola, were baptized within the prison premises on Friday, January 5, 2018. The baptizing ministers were Pastor Burns Musa Sibanda (a prisoner at that time), who is the Chief Financial Officer of the North-Eastern Angola Union mission, and Pastor Benedito Paulino, leader of the Emmanuel mission district, in Viana municipality of Luanda Province. Other inmates recommended by Evangelical churches also presented themselves for baptism, but were not approved since they had not participated in the prescribed Bible study program. I, who was also in prison with Pastor Sibanda, joined the other imprisoned and visiting members of the Seventh day Adventist Church in witnessing and giving assistance during the baptismal ceremony.
Among those baptized, was a young man named Luciano, aged 23, who had accepted Christ during August 25-28, 2017, when Pastor Sibanda and four others had been unjustly imprisoned. During their three days stay in prison, they participated in Sabbath worship services where Pastor Sibanda preached. His colleagues assisted in different ways. Their presence in prison strongly impressed inmates like Luciano, who decided to get baptized and join the Seventh-day Adventist church.
Prior to the baptismal ceremony referred to above, Pastors Sibanda and I had been arrested on false charges and sent to Viana prison on December 29, 2017. The Supreme Court of Angola, however, annulled our unjust imprisonment on February 15, 2018, and granted us unconditional release from prison, which we realized on Wednesday, February 28, 2018.
While in prison, Pastors Sibanda and I actively participated in various Adventist church programs, some of which were run by visiting Seventh day Adventist church groups, as well as attending other worship programs conducted by Evangelical church groups. We held Bible study discussions, fulfilled preaching assignments, as well as promoting the reading of the Spirit of Prophecy books. We generously shared our literature, food (bread, fruits, juices, drinking water, etc.) and toiletries with several inmates. The food stuffs were supplied by Mrs Bonginkosi Sibanda and by other Adventist church members and friends. Other service rendered in prison, included the appointment of Pastor Sibanda, who happened to be the most senior member of our Caserna (cell room) as a counselor – a respected responsibility in the prison disciplinary order.
In prison, we received kind treatment and respect from fellow inmates and from prison police officers. For instance, on the day of our arrival in prison, a young inmate by the name of Emanuel, offered his bed with clean linen and mosquito net for Pastor Sibanda’s use. Other inmates offered their spare prison uniform clothes for our use, since the prison establishment did not have any new uniforms in stock. (Prison uniform must be worn every time an inmate has to leave the prison buildings). Inmates also shared with us other necessities such as washing basins, water storage bottles, and they even taught us how to preserve food in prison. When water for general use was in short supply, Adventist inmates in other rooms used to send us a few five-liter bottles of water to sustain us until the shortage was over.
As a result of our friendly association with them, a number of inmates expressed interest in searching for and joining the Seventh day Adventist church upon their release from prison. One young man, however, did not wait for that future time, but testified that we were the only true pastors that he had ever met. Thus, while prison was not a pleasant place to be, it offered us opportunity for serving others and raising new children in the faith, like Paul raised Onesimus in Rome (Philemon 1:10). Paul’s appeal is therefore pertinent when he says, “Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember those who are mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies” (Heb. 13:3 NLT).
By Pastor Passmore Hachalinga, currently serving as the director of the Ellen G. White Research Centre in Cape Town, South Africa.