A New Day
The light of dawn had just begun to appear in the sky when Jefferson Kabiro Gathu’s team set out with Peter on a six-hundred-mile journey that would lead them, fourteen hours later, to Peter’s village in western Kenya.
Peter had just been released from jail after serving a seven-year sentence for murder. As the director of CBI Kenya, Gathu had assembled the other members of the group in order to help Peter reconcile with his family and community.
Reconciliation is difficult but important work in Kenya, where communities are slow to welcome returning citizens back into the fold. “The attitude of Kenyan society [toward reentry] is very negative,” Gathu explained. “When someone is released from prison, he or she is subjected to stigmatization. ‘He is not an ordinary person,’ society says. ‘That person deserves to die.’”
Upon arriving at the village that evening, the reconciliation team was introduced to elders, villagers and Peter’s family members. “We received a warm welcome from people who had been anxiously waiting for us,” Gathu said. The village reintegration ceremony began immediately the next morning.
The Work of Reconciliation
While reentry assistance in the United States often focuses on providing material support or employment, CBI Kenya’s work goes deeper. CBI Kenya understands that forgiveness is an essential part of reintegrating into society: Returning citizens need support and help from the community that was wronged. They need forgiveness and reconciliation.
CBI Kenya is in the business of reconciliation. Every year, Gathu and his team sponsor up to twenty inmates for a reentry program. The program stresses personal responsibility, the value of education and hard work, and the care of persons and property.
The CBI Kenya team provides returning citizens with transportation and works with the prison chaplaincy department to facilitate the reconciliation and forgiveness process between the released prisoner and his or her family and community. When released prisoners are accepted and supported by their villages, their chances of recidivating fall drastically.
The Power of Forgiveness
That afternoon, under a rain-spattered tent near the homestead of Peter’s family, the villagers shared a meal of goat meat. “After eating, we shared a word from Mathew 15:17–20 about reconciliation that begins with God and then with men,” said Gathu. Elders, friends, family and pastors all spoke on the topic of reconciliation.
At last it was Peter’s turn to speak. He pleaded for forgiveness from the family of the man he had killed and from his community. “It was a very emotional moment,” said Gathu.
Peter then publicly forgave his wife, who had given birth to another man’s child during the time Peter was in prison. In the Kuria culture, a woman who has committed adultery must either be sent away or her parents must pay a fine to the husband’s family. “There was jubilation when Peter chose to forgive as a Christian and to forge forward with his wife,” Gathu said.
As part of its mission to help restore returning citizens, CBI Kenya emphasizes Christian education. Peter has completed half of his CBI discipleship courses, and CBI Kenya will be following up with him so that he can finish the remaining lessons. “Peter said that he had grown spiritually through the help of the CBI lessons and was ready to start preaching when the time comes,” said Gathu.
Peter’s desire to preach is a testimony to the transformative effect of Christ’s love. Because of the reconciliation between man and God through Christ, we are able to reconcile with our brothers and, as in Peter’s case, take the Good News into the world, furthering Christ’s work here on earth. This is the power of forgiveness.
To read about CBI Kenya’s 3,500-person march for reentry, click here.