By Elizabeth Dede
Hospitality Beyond Borders is Koinonia’s ministry to people in prison. One of the main ways we use Hospitality Beyond Borders is to fill backpacks with clothing for men being deported from Stewart Immigration Prison to take with them when they are sent back to their country of origin. But this ministry is much more than that. We work to offer a listening ear by visiting men in Stewart as well as keeping up correspondence with people in prison all over the world. Koinonia member Elizabeth Dede has worked with people in prison for many years and heads our Hospitality Beyond Borders program these days. Even during the pandemic, she is able to get the backpacks to the men who need them and to continue writing letters. We asked Elizabeth to share some of her experiences with us.
Over the past five years, I have visited several men at the Stewart Immigration Prison. Because I don’t speak any languages besides English very well, I always have to ask to visit an English-speaker. Sometimes this is easy, other times the person I am visiting speaks with such a heavy accent that it is very difficult to understand each other.
Visitation happens through a glass and over a telephone, which has very low volume and lots of static, making it even more difficult to hear and understand each other. These men have not committed a crime. They are in prison because they are undocumented. Yet, visitation is more difficult in this prison than in prisons in the State of Georgia, which allow contact visits.
In July of 2019, I met my dear friend, Elvis Lekealem. He is from English Cameroon, which has tried to gain its independence from French Cameroon. The French Cameroon government is oppressive, forcing on English Cameroon a French educational system, and allowing English Cameroon no representation in government. Recently, there has been an independence movement, largely non-violent, which has been violently crushed by the French Cameroon government.
Elvis was part of two non-violent protest marches, and was arrested at the second one. He was held, blindfolded in prison, and was tortured with electric shock. Finally, after paying a bribe, his family was able to gain his release. He had to escape to the jungle, where he lived for three months. The French Cameroon government plastered wanted posters with his photograph throughout the city where he lived.
In the end, one of his brothers was able to pay a French Cameroon soldier to get Elvis onto a flight out of the country. After a perilous journey, walking from Brazil to Mexico, he crossed into this country and turned himself in at the border, seeking asylum. He was immediately put in prison, even though he has a brother who is a US citizen. While Elvis was in prison here, his father was imprisoned and beaten because he would not provide information regarding Elvis’ whereabouts. His brother was beaten to death. I saw horrifying photos. After hearings and appeals, Elvis was deported to Cameroon, where he immediately had to go into hiding again.
We remain in touch. Elvis lives in fear. Why does the US have such hateful immigration policies? “I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35).”
To support Hospitality Beyond Borders, Elizabeth’s work with people in prison, and men like Elvis who are deported every day, you can make a donation today. With your support, Elizabeth and others at Koinonia Farm can continue to live out Jesus’ words from Matthew 25:
“‘…for I was hungry and you shared your food with me; I was thirsty and you shared your water with me; I was a stranger and you welcomed me, ragged and you clothed me, sick and you nursed me; I was in jail and you stood by me.’ The people of justice will answer, ‘Sir, when did we see you hungry and share our food, or thirsty and share our water? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or ragged and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in jail, and stand by you?’ And the Leader of the Movement will reply, ‘When you did it to one of these humblest brothers of mine, you did it to me.’” (Cotton Patch Gospel version by Clarence Jordan).