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A small boat can take you the short journey of 12 km (7 miles) from Cape Town harbour in South Africa to a beautiful island. Many tourists use this boat – to visit Robben Island. It is a place of beauty and freedom, where children can play and animals are protected.

Robben Island was feared

But in the 30 years 1961-1991, the name of Robben Island was feared. This was the place where the Government of South Africa kept in prison ANC (African National Congress) leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. Mandela was a prisoner there for 18 years until 1982 when he was moved to a different prison. Only one visitor each year could visit him for 30 minutes, and he was allowed to write only one letter every six months. No-one ever escaped from Robben Island at that time. It looked beautiful from a distance, but inside it was a place of pain and suffering.

Many of us also feel that we are in a 'prison'. Other people cannot see this when they look at us, but it is as if we are in a place that we cannot escape from. A proverb of the Basotho people from Lesotho says, "Bohloko ba pelo bo utluoa ke mong a eona" ("The pain in the heart is felt by the owner"). This means that others do not really know the pain and problems that we have inside.

Are you imprisoned?

There are many things that can put us into a sort of 'prison'. Sometimes it can be hurts and pain from the past. Many women (and some men too) suffer because of rape and sex abuse, which often happened to them when they were children. Others have the pain and worry of illness, such as HIV-AIDS. The death of a parent, child or family member may hurt us for many years. Fear of the future, fear of evil spirits, fears that there will not be money for food or schooling – all these things can make us feel trapped, as if we are in a cage. We can also feel trapped by the wrong things that we do. We wish we could be different and stop doing them, but we have no power to escape. That is prison too!

Feeling our pain

But God understands the pain and problems that we have, even when no-one else does. "Jesus is able to help because he himself suffered and was tempted," the Bible tells us.1 And Jesus said2, "He has sent me to tell the prisoners they can go free, and to tell blind people they can see. He has sent me to set free those who have been wrongly held down."

When she was young, Catherine was badly hurt: "When I was a child, my father was away a lot and my grandfather forced me to have sex with him. For 40 years, I hid this secret in my heart. Then God began to heal me. Jesus alone understands and feels my pain and gives me comfort."

Jesus chose to die, so that he could take the punishment for all that we have done wrong. But he also died to carry all the pains that we have. He promises a completely new life. "God is the only way to complete happiness. By giving my life over to him, I've learned the true purpose and meaning of life," says Mike Clemons, a footballer with Toronto Argonauts.

The prison door is open. Your life can be like a beautiful island. Do you want freedom?

1) You can read this in the Christian Bible in the letter to Hebrews, chapter 2, verse 18.
2) In the part of the Bible called a Gospel (Injil) by Luke, chapter 4, verse 18.