Bringing life to young people in prison
‘We just love them, because God is love and we operate from that premise.’
Inmates at Reiby Juvenile Detention Centre in Sydney’s west love the Easter story because it’s a story of forgiveness and someone sacrificing love for them, according to Lee Bromley, who serves at Reiby as a chaplain.
Most of the children and young people who are imprisoned at Reiby have never heard about Jesus, and so getting a Bible into their hands is truly something special.
“Bible Society gave us Bibles when we first started,” says Lee, “but we had a big problem because lots of the kids couldn’t read them.”
To address this problem, the team at Reiby started a homework centre where volunteer teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists come to help kids learn to read and write.
“The kids love their Bible, and they get attached to the Bibles.” – Lee Bromley
“We wanted them to be able to read it and enjoy it, to have a wonderful experience and find Jesus in [the Bible],” says Lee.
“The kids love their Bible, and they get attached to the Bibles. It means that someone’s cared for them, someone has loved them and not judged them, and [someone has] really cared and is interested and listens to them.”
The chaplains run weekly Bible studies and Sunday services, and Lee says they have a 95 per cent attendance rate at both.
Bible studies run on Wednesdays, and they often run a lot like a local youth group. Lee says that they often have members of local churches join them for the studies.
But more than the structured events, chaplains are focused on meeting the spiritual and pastoral needs of the kids in detention.
“I know the church is very good on overseas mission, and yet I don’t think people realise some of the third-world living conditions and the horrendous trauma some of our nation’s first people live through,” says Lee.
“They’re really interested in hearing about someone who loves unconditionally.” – Lee Bromley
“What are we doing as a church about that? Is it that we just want people putting their hands up to become Christians, or do we want to see lives change and then [help them] see that the gospel has caused that to happen?”
Lee thinks of her job as being the Bible to these young, wounded children, because, she says, “they’re really interested in hearing about someone who loves unconditionally.” She tells a story of a young girl who was sent to Reiby because she got involved with a drug group and offended. Through conversations with Lee, it was revealed that she had suffered abuse as a child, and really wanted to know why a loving God would allow that to happen.
“It was heartbreaking,” says Lee. “We cried together. I told her that a loving God doesn’t want that to happen, and that I don’t know why it does, especially to innocent children, but I know that God doesn’t like it.
“She took a Bible, and she said she found Jesus there.
“They seek us out for the Bible. We don’t have to sell it. Getting the word out is living the life, presenting the Bible for those who are interested in finding Jesus in there as the loving saviour that he is.”
All the detention centres in NSW have chaplains, and Lee says, “we have a reputation within our own Bible studies. [The residents] know that we are Christians; we don’t have to tell them. We just love them, because God is love and we operate from that premise.”
This Bible Society Special Appeal inspires chaplains to give the Bible to vulnerable young people who are at risk.