Acts 29. Parish Prison Release
Tonto Tuhoe, Louis Epps, Peter Tyler, Rev'd Charles Noanoa (Te Aitanga a Hauiti). Rev'd Charles on the way to Rimutaka prison
Hosting a person released from prison
During Betsan’s second visit to Charles recently quite a bit of the conversation was on the person living with Charles. Tonto is an ex-prisoner and Charles agreed to support him on his release.
Tonto is Charles’s flatmate. Charles said ‘I’ve offered him my life’. They share out the cleaning and cooking, mostly Tonto cleans and Charles cooks so that Tonto comes home to a hot meal. Tonto is currently employed as a furniture maker, working sixteen hour days during the week and twelve hours on Saturdays, so they don’t see much of each other.
Laughing, Charles said ‘Tonto doesn’t worship in our parish. He goes down the road to another parish. He loves it there. It is a Pakeha parish and the ladies make us chocolate cakes, but Tonto eats it all!’. Earlier this year he was confirmed in the cathedral. ‘We were given an amazing donation after that – of a hundred grand’.
Charles reflected on his work in prisons and said ‘prisoners need accommodation, food and fellowship. He and Tonto will set up another house to share with a person who is released and this will be the beginning of expanding the support for others being released.
For a moment Charles’ voice fell with sadness in talking about some complaints by neighbours when a prison work gang came to paint the church hall. Tonto felt that the complaints were really about him living there ‘it is sad to see the persistence of negative attitudes and prejudice based on the media’. Then the positive spirit returns, ‘the community strength here is huge’.
Theology responding to experience
Betsan went to a service at Holy Trinity, Avalon to listen to Tonto and his friends Louis and Peter practicing music for the Sunday church service. Tonto said that even though the furniture making factory works on Sunday, this was his special day to go to church and sleep!
After the service Charles drove up to Rimutaka prison where he was going to confirm six men in the faith-based unit. Inmates are drawn to his style of church where Charles can relate to their experience and this is understood as part of their theology. So often prison visiting is about being talked to and services are for teaching and the men listening.
He led an ‘Education For Ministry’ course in the faith based unit, no doubt enhanced by his experience of living on a kibbutz for a time several years ago. People from other parts of the prison ask for him to take ‘church’ because of they want the quality of fellowship he brings. Twice Charles has used rewena bread – ‘wow, sixty three guys and there was quite a bit left over ‘Charles said ‘we have substantial amount of body of Christ left over’. The guys grabbed it when Charles offered it to them and Charles continues ‘May you feast on Christ as on the bread’.
A Theology ofAroha
A theology of aroha comes to light when Charles refers to Psalm 23 and how this was interpreted by a man in prison: ‘yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death’ was understood by this man as ‘my mind is the valley and the more I go into that valley the darker it gets.’ Charles said ‘I had to draw him back by saying ‘whats on the other side of the valley. What creates a shadow? What light is there?’ here Charles was able to respond and transform the swallowing power of darkness by referring to the light which casts a shadow to form darkness. With darkness as the other aspect of light the man was able to move towards light and hope.
Tonto is attracting quite a bit of interest – the Parole Board, a judge and the international director of Prison Fellowship have met with him since his release to see this success story of re-integration into the community. Prison Fellowship has developed a programme for parishes or other groups to have a released prisoner living with them. While Charles works with Prison Fellowship, this is not a formal Target Communities programme, even though it is similar in hosting a prisoner to live in a community after release. Charles emphasises he does not run a programme. Sharing his life with Tonto and the men who have been in prison, for Charles, flows from aroha.
We shared a hangi at the end of the conversation, and as Betsan was leaving Charles said ‘now what does aroha mean?’ – recalling an earlier part of our conversation. ‘Remember, aro is no distance, and ha is sharing breath – a relationship so close the breath intermingles’. This is what he takes to prison ministry and what he shares with Tonto, Louis and Peter and their other friends who have been released.
Contact name Rev'd Charles Noanoa
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