Committing to Prison Ministry
The Himalayan nation of Nepal was a Hindu Kingdom when Dinesh Neupane first began visiting prisoners over twenty years ago. As a lawyer, he had ample opportunity to witness firsthand not only the suffering prisoners, but also their children who were living alongside them. "A glimpse of life within prison walls whilst defending a prisoner was enough to convince Dinesh to give up his lucrative profession as a lawyer to work tirelessly to alleviate the plight of prisoners and their families, particularly the children," explained Timothy Khoo, Executive Vice President of Prison Fellowship International. Despite the lack of resources, support, and fear of arrest, Dinesh felt the Lord pulling him “to be strong and courageous” and to reach out to those in need.
For the next two years, Dinesh shared the Good News with prisoners. It was always a challenge, and many times he was placed in custody for distributing Christian materials. Slowly his approach changed, and he began to also focus on prisoners’ rights and the role of civil society in resolving the nation’s crime problem.
In 1990, Prison Fellowship International (PFI) invited Dinesh to Singapore to learn more about prison ministry. During this visit Dinesh says, “My vision of ministry became bigger, and I committed myself and my entire life to the Lord for Prison Ministry.” PFI chartered Prison Fellowship Nepal the next year.
Dinesh’s commitment to helping the prisoner and his family has produced a dynamic and diverse organisation which continues to change lives. He no longer spends his time walking for weeks at a time through the snow capped mountains or the jungle to be able to share the Good News with prisoners. Dinesh is occupied running a multi-faceted organisation in what is now the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.
Sadly, PF Nepal faces a great demand for basic necessities in the prisons of Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world. PF Nepal provides relief materials and supplies to prisoners, including, but not limited to, food and clothing. The impact of the contributions are evident by the words of one grateful prisoner, “Prison Fellowship people are our true friend in the time of suffering.”
Never forgetting the faces of the young children he first saw in prison, PF Nepal operates Peace Loving Childrens’ Homes in Kathmandu and Pokhara as well as a Foster Parent Programme. Dinesh did not wait until he had the resources and a longterm plan to help the children, he merely answered the plea of a prisoner who, hours before his execution, wept as he explained that his children had no where to live. Impulsively, Dinesh said, “Don’t worry, I will take care of your family.” And, so began PF’s caring for the children of prisoners. For children with a parent outside of prison who lacks the financial means to care for the child, PF’s Foster Parent Programme provides financial support, assistance with food, housing, and medical care. In addition, PF gives these vulnerable children tuition fees, school supplies, and uniforms so they can receive the education necessary to free them from the desperation and poverty from which many of their parents struggle.
PF Nepal also operates a thriving aftercare centre known as the “Model Rehabilitation Programme,” which provides vocational training for ex-prisoners, such as tailoring and mechanical repair, to help them find employment and avoid returning to prison. The centre is located on a large plot of land, where a vegetable garden and a rice field provide food for the rehabilitation programme and the children’s home in Kathmandu.
From legal aid to a successful literacy programme, to the establishment of prison libraries, PF Nepal continues to build an inspiring, God centered ministry. This growth is due in part to Dinesh’s ability to build bridges. Despite existing in a secular state with a Christian minority (Nepal is 80% Hindu, 10% Buddhist and 4% Muslim), PF Nepal has been the only organisation granted permission by the government to go inside all of the country’s prisons. In addition, PF has been given consent to build a chapel and hold Christian services inside prison compounds. PF Nepal’s next goal is to hold Chapel services in all 74 prisons of Nepal!
Dinesh has been a shining example of faith and leadership, both of which have required tremendous courage and strength. And, with his guidance and example, PF Nepal has grown and thrived despite religious intolerance and harsh political and economic conditions. Dinesh, the PF Nepal staff, and many volunteers continue to restore hope to those in need and pain and to live out the words of Hebrews 13:3, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”