In the Belly of the Whale by Joy Wanless

In the Belly of the Whale by Joy Wanless

Going every Tuesday morning to Pollsmoor is something we look forward to because it is really rewarding to work with young men who want to be with us and have a desire to learn. We have a whole new class now with very few of the old members, because they have been sentenced and therefore moved to other prisons or, more commonly, to another section of Pollsmoor.

Interestingly, our current group has a number of Muslim youngsters who participate fully and ask many searching questions of us. When we asked each youngster why they joined our class, their answers were quite interesting and very honest. Some said that it makes them forget where they are while they are with us, and most wanted to learn how to change their lives for the better. Some wanted to learn about Jesus and what the Bible teaches, and some said that they appreciate being with people who accept them and do not condemn them.

When we asked what they enjoyed about the sessions, they said that they liked finding answers to questions they did not understand and that they really enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere. This is partly because we have been able to relocate our venue to the library, where there are few interruptions and it is relatively quiet. They also appreciate the fact that they can hear different interpretations of the Bible, and those that saw the video ‘March of the Penguins’ were really touched by what they saw. They also enjoy the people in the group and they love the music and singing, especially when Robert brings his guitar or a CD of music they really like and relate to.

Their response to the question of what they would like us to cover in the future is a challenge, because they want to discuss the environment from where they come and how they can help to make changes in their own lives and also help people in their communities to realise that there are better ways to live. They were perfectly honest when they told us that with our support on a regular basis, it was relatively easy to make changes in their lives and make commitments to Jesus Christ, but that they all feared going back to their own communities. They know that there they will be on their own again and mixing with the gangsters that they no longer want to be part of. It is not an easy question to find answers for.

Robert has used the story of Jonah as the basis for discussion. We have done the story with at least two other groups, and each time it is different. This time Robert has made a splendid book with colour pictures and interesting extras, like a page at the beginning which we use as a starter, questioning where they would score themselves on a scale of 1 to 10. 10 means they are feeling really strong, and 1 means they are feeling low. There is also a page of blessings (see below) which we use to end our sessions. The pictures are there to stimulate discussion and we do very little of the talking when they respond to these. There are also pages which are for their private responses and others where they answer homework questions which we take in and mark.

Jonah is a good basis for discussion because it is about making wrong decisions, trying to run away, and the consequences of one’s actions. It also leads to discussions about freedom of choice, taking responsibility for our actions and changing lives.