The Prison Power series will connect the stories of Biblical prisoners with stories of our brothers and sisters today to illustrate how God’s kingdom is built even through imprisonment. This post is an excerpt from Prison Power by Paul Estabrooks and Jim Cunningham. To download a free copy of the full book, click here.
Betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery and then the victim of sexual asault by his master’s wife, Joseph knew the meaning of unexplainable opposition. He was sent to the king’s prison, where he met the King’s butler and baker. Joseph accurately interpreted their dreams, but the released butler returned to the King and forgot his pledge to speak on behalf of Joseph’s release – for another two years.
When the King has a dream and needs an interpretation, Joseph is finally called from the prison. He washes, shaves and enters the palace, never to return to his prison cell. After giving the Lord’s interpretation, Joseph becomes second in command in Egypt. He oversees food production and distribution for the entire country. His deliverance at that exact moment led to the salvation of his own father and brothers from starvation.
Joseph later detained his brothers for three days “in prison” (Genesis 42:17-19) before revealing himself to them. Prison became Joseph’s sovereign placement for a divine appointment with the King. In turn, Joseph was responsible for the salvation of an entire nation.
“But while Joseph was there in prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” Genesis 39: 20b-21
Prison Principle: What men intend for evil to hinder God’s Kingdom, God uses for good to advance His Kingdom.
Following the communist take-over of Vietnam in 1975, Rev. Ho Hieu Ha moved from a mid- country tribal area (where he was a missionary) to the former southern capital city of Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh. After much prayer, he miraculously received permission to use the old International Church of Saigon building for church services with 29 other believers who joined him. It became known as the Tran Cao Van church.
Every day began with a 5:00 A.M. three-hour prayer meeting and each evening concluded with a Bible Study. Every month they experienced 80–100 conversions. One year they baptized over 800 new believers. Within three years, the church services were filled to overflowing each Sunday with more than 5,000 worshippers. It took four services to get everyone into the sanctuary on a Sunday and all services per week totalled 21.
The amount of attention the church received worried the government, and they regretted giving permission to use the church. They waited to see if Pastor Ha would say something against the government that they could use to censure him, but he never did.
Finally, the government moved in during an early-morning prayer meeting on December 10, 1983. They confiscated the Bibles and hymnbooks, closed the church and locked the gate. Many believers stood weeping at the gates for days.
Pastor Ha’s family was evicted from their apartment at the back of the church and his wife and two children were forced to find other accommodations. Pastor Ha was taken away to prison.
After two years in detention, Pastor Ha was finally brought to trial on multiple false charges. When his prison truck arrived at the courthouse, he was amazed to find hundreds of people waiting outside – many from his congregation. Upon seeing him, his wife began to cry. Pastor Ha called out to her in a loud but gentle voice, so all his parishioners could also hear. “Dear, please don’t cry. God has given me as much ministry in the prison as I had before in the church and I’m willing to stay here to serve Him!”
Altogether, he spent more than six years in prison and upon release, immigrated with his family to the USA. There he shared this report on God’s working in his life during those important imprisonment years:
“If God had called me to prison ministry in 1975, I would have refused. But He spent those years preparing my heart, so when the time came, I accepted. I saw all this as the amazing plan of God.
“During my six years and twenty-three days of living in iron cages, the Lord called ninety-six people to believe in Him. They were members of the former government, officials from the new communist government, refugees, Chinese, Cambodian – even a few of our captors.
“My prison wasn’t like one in the United States with television sets everywhere. We slept on the cold floor, facing mosquitoes, leeches, and cockroaches. Prisoners were always hungry, fighting disease constantly and battling each other. One time I was isolated in a very dark room. For sixteen months I didn’t see anything. The food was rotten. But praise God, I wasn’t sick once during that period.
“God put me in prison to share Jesus Christ with the outcasts and the hopeless to express His love. His glory became known in that prison. The guards tried many ways to keep us from communicating with one another, but the witness went on. Over the years, the prisoners had dug holes in the thick walls from one cell to another. Their purpose was to pass cigarettes, but I used them to speak about the Lord. When I was in isolation, I found that the people below me could hear through the toilet hole. They memorized verses of the Bible, learned songs and came to Christ – all through that hole.”
Pastor Ha currently ministers in North America longing for the day he can return to minister again in his beloved Vietnam.