“When I got drunk, I would have the strength of twelve lions. I was a very wild man.”
It was difficult to imagine that the gentle and soft-spoken man standing before us was speaking of himself. As Elong elaborated in more detail about his former criminal life, we learned that he had been a murderer who was feared and hated by everyone. Some even believed that he was possessed by a demon, not an uncommon phenomenon in his nation of Cameroon, West Africa.
We met Elong earlier that day at Akonolinga Prison, where he is serving a 15-year sentence for murder. Our Cameroonian ministry partner, pastor Emmanuelle Chongwan, told us what had happened to Elong some months ago as he preached the gospel to a captive audience (literally captive!) at the prison.
Although pastor Emmanuelle didn’t know it, Elong listened intently to his message, and he took one of the Bibles that Emmanuelle’s team was giving away. A seed had been planted in Elong’s dark heart. Clutching his new Bible, he walked back to his cell with a flicker of hope that there was a God who could deliver him from his inner torment. Over the next three weeks Elong read his Bible and prayed, and he finally made Jesus the Lord of his life.
Elong’s transformation was immediate, and it astounded everyone at the prison. No one could believe his change was genuine—it was like the difference between night and day.
The prison warden, Mr. Asena, was one such doubter. “As a warden, I never before had an enemy in my prison,” he said, “but Elong was my enemy. I hated him. He was a very bad man.” Over time, however, the warden’s heart softened as he watched Elong live out his faith every day under the discipleship of pastor Emmanuelle, who eventually assigned Elong to be the resident pastor of the prison.
So completely has the Lord transformed Elong that the warden now trusts him completely. We could hardly believe warden Asena’s words when he told us just how much he now trusts him: “Elong is a completely different man. He doesn’t sleep in the prison anymore, but sleeps in my house. He watches my children when I am gone. He’s now my trusted friend!” Elong is also busy winning other inmates to the Lord.
My wife, Carole, and I were filled with joy and encouragement the day we heard Elong’s story. A wild, lion of a man had become a gentle lamb. That afternoon we were privileged to attend a worship service in the prison. We could not keep our feet from dancing with our incarcerated brothers as our hearts soared to the throne room of God in exaltation! Emmanuelle, Elong and I then shared the Word, and the Spirit brought conviction. About 75 inmates responded to receive salvation and healing. In addition to meeting the spiritual needs of the inmates, we also provided, by means of gifts to Heaven’s Family’s Prison Ministry & Rehab Fund, food, oil, soap and personal items.
Our experience at Akonolinga was one more reminder of how the brilliant light of God’s transforming power works even in the darkest places—including prisons and imprisoned hearts.