How to Survive Spiritually in Prison
After being incarcerated for 670 days, Cape Verdean Seventh-day Adventist António Monteiro dos Anjos was freed. After 22 months in the civil prison in Lomé, Togo (since March 15, 2012), the Togo Appeals Court found Pastor Monteiro innocent of all charges against him.
The minister-missionary was released January 13, 2014. Thousands of Adventists and human rights advocates around the world who prayed and lobbied for his freedom were overjoyed at the news. Monteiro and his family spent his first Sabbath of freedom in Dakar, Senegal. He then returned to his home in Cape Verde to a warm and jubilant welcome. More than 1,000 islanders met him at the Nelson Mandela International Airport in the capital city of Praia.
In a thoughtful interview Monteiro reflected on his time in prison and shared what he believed to be the principles of his spiritual survival. He confessed that time away from his wife, Madalena, and his four children were among his toughest trials. Then he noted that the bizarre accusations, denied freedoms, and cramped and unhygienic conditions were constant challenges with which he had to deal in order to keep his sanity and his spiritual health.
Monteiro’s prison experience was noteworthy in that he literally turned the prison into a gospel outreach site. He routinely held prayer meetings, preaching services, marriage and family counseling sessions, and baptismal and Communion services.
How does a person, even a minister, turn prison into a parish? The pastor says his ministry in prison was intentional, not accidental. His approach to prison ministry can be summarized by both his biblical attitudes and his Christian actions.
Monteiro’s attitude was based on the Bible experiences of believers unjustly imprisoned. He referred to Joseph, who nurtured the belief that God was ultimately in charge of his future (Gen. 39:20-22; 41:41).
Monteiro found inspiration in John the Baptist, who was dogged in his fidelity to God (Matt. 11:2-11; Mark 6:22-28). Monteiro said his persistent faith buoyed him when nagging doubts would have caused him to believe his case was hopeless.
Also meaningful was the story of the apostle Peter, delivered from prison as a result of the prayers of believers (Acts 12:1-19). Monteiro knew that God’s power was activated because of the thousands of prayers from God’s people around the world. “When God’s people pray,” Monteiro said, “spiritual power is released.”
Monteiro’s actions undergirded his profession in prison. These actions, like his attitudes, take on a universal character that work in everyday life, as well as in an African prison.
1. Rather than being bitter, Monteiro chose to forgive without resentment.He reasoned, “If Jesus was mistreated and wrongly accused, I could do no less.”
2. He accepted his situation but didn’t give up hope. “I didn’t know my future, but I believed I would be freed at some point. So I quietly accepted my situation. But at the same time I did not give up working for justice and my ultimate release.”
3. He resolved to be compassionate and generous wherever possible. That was his witness in a prison facility that had been built for 500 inmates, but housed 2,000.
4. When things became dark and forbidding, he trusted God with stubborn persistence.
5. Undergirding his attitudes and actions was the resolve to safeguard his time. He said a wise and devotional use of time was key to his spiritual survival.
Monteiro’s testimony about spiritual survival can be summarized: “I am thankful to God and to all the people who prayed for me and supported me. But it was God who preserved me, and now He has freed me.”