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The Conversion of General Manuel Noriega

I WAS IN PRISON AND YOU VISITED ME.
Matthew 25:36

 "I’ve seen seriousness and I’ve seen the lack of it," said one of the guards who monitor the fallen leader daily. "I haven’t seen any dedication or seriousness greater than his."

 

GENERAL MANUEL ANTONIO NORIEGA

Baptized into Christ 10/24/92

"God can forgive the worst sinner on earth." How many times have you heard a preacher say something like that? Or, "God loves everyone. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. There is no sinner too sinful for God to forgive, if that person will repent and come to Christ in faith." And do we believe it? Of course we do. We believe that Jesus Christ would have forgiven Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him, if he would have truly repented.

Question: Would Jesus have forgiven Adolf Hitler? Perhaps survivors of the holocaust couldn’t...and we could understand their difficulty in forgiving.  But Jesus could have forgiven Hitler...if he would have changed his life instead of ending his life by blowing his brains out in a Berlin bunker.

Let’s bring it on down to today.

Would God be willing to forgive a repentant Jeffrey Dahmer, the mass murderer of Milwaukee?

How about Sadaam Hussein, the bloody butcher of Baghdad?

What about General Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian drug Lord?

Stop the questions!

It’s not a moot question anymore. For on October 24, 1992, in a baptistry provided by American Rehabilitation Ministries, General Manuel Noriega was immersed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the chambers of the Honorable William M. Hoeveler, United States District Judge, Federal Court House, Miami Florida.

Noriega was "Public Enemy No. 1" during the time leading up to the U.S. invasion of Panama in December 1989. How did it come to pass that the former general of Panama was buried in bapitsm in Florida in an A.R.M. baptistry?



Joe R. Garman, Founder and President of A.R.M. Prison Outreach International.

 The story begins in a maximum security cell in the federal prison in Miami where General Manuel Noriega was awaiting trial on charges of international drug trafficking.

Early in January 1990 a copy of a Spanish New Testament came into the notorious prisoner’s hands. On January 10, 1990, the editor of the Soul Winner’s New Testament (Evangelismo Personal), Clift Brannon, a former attorney turned preacher, received a letter from Noriega.  In the letter, Noriega expressed his appreciation for the copy of the Scriptures. Brannon immediately applied for a visitation permit for the purpose of religious instruction under the rights granted Noriega under the Geneva Accords.

Accordingly, on May 15 and 16, 1990, Brannon and a Spanish interpreter, Rudy Hernandez, were allowed to visit Noriega for a total of 6 hours in the Metropolitan Correctional Center of Dade County, Florida.  Following their visit, Noriega wrote Brannon as follows:

On completing the spiritual sessions that you as a messenger of the Word of God brought to my heart, even to my area of confinement as Prisoner of War of the United States, I feel the necessity of adding something more to what I was able to say to you as we parted.  The evening sessions of May 15 and 16 with you and Rudy Hernandez along with the Christian explanation and guidance were for me the first day of a dream, a revelation.  I can tell you with great strength and inspiration that receiving our Lord Jesus Christ as Savior guided by you, was an emotional event. The hours flew by without my being aware. I could have desired that they continue forever, but there was no time nor space.  Thank you for your time. Thank you for your human warmth, for your constant and permanent spiritual strength brought to bear on my mind and soul.

With great affection.

Manuel A. Noriega

Following another visit in July, 1990, Noriega enrolled in a 16-week Bible correspondence course. At the conclusion of his personal study the former drug lord requested permission of the prison authorities to be baptized in accordance to what he had learned from Matthew 28:19,20.

His request, however, was denied upon the advice of his attorneys.

On September 25, 1992, Brannon wrote to the Honorable William M. Hoeveler, united States District Judge in Miami, pleading the court’s permission to immerse Noriega. "Only in this way can he (Noriega) genuinely show his faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-5)."

The former attorney went on to write:

On October 24th, we ask your authority to have a fiberglass baptistry taken into the court room and for General Manuel A. Noriega to be immersed in accord with the Holy Scriptures and in obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sincerely submitted for Your Honor’s favorable consideration.

Clifton W. Brannon

In the meantime, it was necessary to secure a portable baptistry. To whom would they turn?

To the same ministry that has for the past 31 years placed more than 1000 baptistries in American prisons nationwide. A.R.M. not only responded with a communion table baptistry, but also provided two in-depth Spanish Bible correspondence courses for General Noriega’s study.  A variety of Spanish DaySpring greeting cards were sent from A.R.M. along with several New Testament Gospel tracts in Spanish.

On October 24, 1992 (United Nations Day!), A.R.M’s baptistry arrived at the back door of the Federal Court House in Miami. A Deputy Marshall helped Brannon and his associates take the baptistry into the courtroom and fill it with water.

Joe Garman was able to partake of the Lord's Supper along with Manuel Noriega and his daughter during a private visit to his Maximum-Security cell.

 

Noriega’s baptism almost didn’t happen because of his high security status, opposition from the Catholic chaplain and daunting logistical problems.

The baptism was arranged to take place in the courthouse, in an atrium outside the door of one of the courtrooms, using A.R.M.ís Communion Table Baptistry.

"That was a first", Brannon said. "We were told this had never taken place in a federal courthouse before".

When the baptistry was filled, the Deputy Marshall brought General Manuel Antonio Noriega into the courtroom to be baptized. Surrounded by 12 guards, Noriega, wearing civilian clothes, took off his jacket and shoes, and got into the baptistry. Brannon preached on the meaning of baptism as Hernandes interpreted, followed by prayer and Scripture reading. Brannon then baptized Noriega in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Brannon says that when Noriega "came up out of the water" you could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room. "Rudy had an accordion, and we all sang Amazing Grace, which reverberated off the marble floor", Brannon said.

"It’s one of those sacred moments," Brannon said. "I could feel God speaking that He was well pleased."

Noriega was allowed to give a brief testimony and be served the Lord’s Supper before being escorted back to his maximum security cell.  Here, in part, is the testimony of General Manuel Antonio Noriega, the notorious international drug lord and ruthless dictator of Panama:

"Before, Jesus to me was only an image of that which was learned from Catholicism, an historic being who worked miracles. All was transformed when on Tuesday, January the 16th, 1990, Dr. Clift asked me in a telephone conversation, he in Texas and I in a preventive prison of the court, "Do you know that Jesus loves you?"

Today, this is what He means to me:

He is the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins, who arose from the grave and is at the right hand of God the Father and who above all things He is my Savior, and has mercy on me, a sinner."

General Manuel Antonio Noriega has been found guilty of international drug trafficking and sentenced to 40 years in the federal penitentiary.

General Noriega is only one of more than a half-million prisoners who have obeyed their Lord in Christian baptism in A.R.M. donated baptistries. The gifts from you, God’s people, made it possible.

Since the baptism of General Noriega, prison authorities across America have phoned and written A.R.M. headquarters requesting a baptistry for their prisoners too.  One chaplain in Alabama said, "We have 65 men now waiting to be baptized".

Another chaplain in Louisiana wrote, "We have been on your waiting list for over 9 months Please, we need a baptistry as soon as possible".  The chaplain in Attica, New York, phoned to say, "You gave us a baptistry in 1975, but we have used it so much that it is cracked and broken.  Please send us a new one".

Tony Ponceti, who led the former dictator in weekly discipleship studies for more than two years said, "Gaining permission to transport A.R.M.’s baptistry into the courthouse was nothing short of a miracle.  After Noriega rose out of the water, he had no words to express the joy he sensed."

Our continual effort to provide baptisteries to jails and prisons is also nothing short of a miracle. A.R.M. Prison Outreach International receives requests for Communion Table Baptisteries and Collapsible Portable Baptisteries on a weekly basis. Missionaries and native evangelists are also in need of A.R.M.'s baptisteries. Will you allow God to perform a miracle through you?

Would you, your Sunday School class, or church prayerfully consider sponsoring a baptistery for a jail/prison chaplain or a missionary serving in another country?

Click Here to help fund a prison baptistry.

Read "Congratulations from General Noriega"
 

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American Rehabilitation Ministries
P.O. Box 1490
Joplin, Missouri 64802-1490

(417) 781-9100
FAX: (417) 781-9532