Inmates are hungry for the word of God

Indigenous language Bibles are bringing spiritual freedom in prison, says chaplain Deb.

When Chaplain Deb* started ministering in a Northern Territory prison, she faced many barriers to Opening The Bible.

By design, prisons are not easy places to be. Building trust can take years.

But Deb didn’t give up. She worked hard to earn the respect of inmates and correctional staff – and now she’s seeing the fruits of this labour of love.

“In the past 12 months, we’ve seen an incredible desire to engage with our Chaplains,” Deb reflects. “We’re seeing inmates open up and participate in Scripture studies and reflections.”

Opening The Bible in Indigenous languages

Deb credits this success in part to Indigenous language Scripture produced by Bible Society Australia.

The Scripture Grants program enables Deb to purchase Bibles in Kriol – one of 100+ Aboriginal languages and dialects spoken in NT.

“The availability of Bibles has been a huge blessing for us as Prison Chaplains,” says Deb. “As we preach, conduct Bible studies, and interact with prisoners, we see the usefulness of the Bibles in their hands.”

Requests for Bibles in the prison are many. But Deb is thankful to have adequate supplies, both in English and Aboriginal languages, to give away to prisoners.

“The Bible is their source of hope… It brings transformation,” Deb says. “We intend to order many more Bibles in language as they become available.”

Why prisons need Scripture in Aboriginal languages

Deb and her team won’t be out of a job any time soon.

Sadly, the Northern Territory has the highest imprisonment rates of any state or territory in Australia. And First Nations Peoples are massively overrepresented in the criminal justice system Australia-wide.

The figures:

  • Almost 1% of all adults in NT are currently incarcerated (994 per 100,000 adults)*
  • This is significantly higher than the national average of just 0.2%*
  • More than 29% of the total prison population in Australia are First Nations people (despite Indigenous people only representing 3% of the total Australian population).
  • The Kriol translation was the first full Aboriginal language Bible. It took over 29 years to translate and was only published in 2007.

*Corrective Services Australia Data on Persons in Corrective Services.

The difference a Bible can make to inmates

 Deb says that access to Bibles is one of the best ways to reach prisoners with the Gospel.

“Reading the Bible in their own language has an amazing effect,” she reports. “It’s leading to the spread of the Gospel in the prison.”

One of the ladies Deb works with really struggled to read and understand the Bible in English.

“She found it incredibly difficult,” says Deb. “She voiced her joy at receiving a Kriol Bible because it means she’s now able to read the Bible by herself.”

“The story continues as she now shares her joy of Scripture reading with her other friends who speak Kriol. They are now all reading the Bible.”

As well as Bibles, prisoners can access Bible story comics that present the gospel in picture form. These have been particularly well received in the men’s prison, where comics facilitated profound discussions about death and resurrection at Easter.

Deb says that tangible Scripture materials that inmates can call their own are incredibly precious in a prison environment.

“A Bible to read and share stories with others is a precious gift in prison,” says Deb. “Scripture brings joy and comfort where there is little joy.”

The chaplains putting in the hard yards

Deb is one of thousands of chaplains doing life-changing work in hospitals, aged care homes, clubs, and prisons around Australia.

Deb’s ministry is resourced by the Bible Society Australia Scripture Grants Fund, which provides access to free Bibles and Scripture resources.

“We are incredibly grateful for the work the Bible Society does in supporting programs like ours to deliver Scripture,” she reflects. “These resources give prisoners a connection to faith that would otherwise not be possible.”

Help spread the Good News

We love sharing about the work of Chaplains like Deb. You can get involved by sharing, praying, and learning.

  • Share: Help spread the Good News and encourage others with this story.
  • Pray: Add Deb and chaplains around Australia to your prayer list.
  • Learn: Find out more about our Indigenous Scripture projects here.

*The name of the chaplain has been changed for privacy. This testimony was shared in 2022.

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