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The Incarcerated Church

By Chelsen Vicari | Posted March 4, 2015

A version of this article originally appeared on  JuicyEcumenism.com, the weblog of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and appears here with permission.

 

Chelsen Vicari (Image courtesy IRD)

It is tempting to neglect incarcerated Christians in America. Labeled as lost causes, we justify our lack of attention to the needs of these brothers and sisters in Christ because of the public punishment they serve for their past wrongdoings. Thank goodness this is not the attitude of Jesus Christ.

In a letter to his parents from his prison cell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “I wish I could be doing useful service somewhere or other, but at present that ‘somewhere’ must be in the prison cell, and what I can do here makes its contribution to the unseen world, a sphere where the word ‘do’ is quite unsuitable.” Bonhoeffer spent two years in prison, yet he published wedding sermons, gave Sunday sermons and shared the Gospel with his prison mates and prison guards.

An imprisoned Christian does not lead a static spiritual life. There is much work to be done for the glory of God behind those high-security walls. Of course, ministry within a prison that is led by a prisoner is far from easy. The daily challenges of prison life are too well known to require further mention. The challenges that do go unheard are the emotional and spiritual struggles endured by incarcerated Christians, such as feeling abandoned and forgotten.

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Dancing in Prison

By Eric Metaxas | Posted March 3, 2015

The following commentary originally appeared on the BreakPoint website.

When a man is sentenced to prison, he is not the only person in his family doing time. If we believe that fathers matter, it’s difficult to deny that his children are also serving a sentence of sorts.

But, as a heart-warming story illustrates, locked up doesn’t have to mean locked out.

That is how a remarkable woman named Angela Patton put it on a recent edition of the TED Radio Hour. Patton is the CEO of “Girls for a Change” in Richmond, Virginia. The organization works with girls between the age of 11 and 17, helping them to develop the skills necessary to lead successful lives and have a positive impact on their communities.

As part of this program, Patton and company hold an annual father-daughter dance. A few years ago, during the planning for the dance, one of the girls said that her father couldn’t attend because he was in jail. After bouncing some ideas off each other, one of the girls asked, “Why don’t we hold the dance in jail?”

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Out of the Depths

By Jim Liske | Posted March 2, 2015

   “To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit.” – Jonah 2:6, NIV

The wayward prophet Jonah had to go into the belly of the whale before He really understood the message of redemption God wanted him to preach in Nineveh. It’s probable that when he looked back on his life, Jonah thought of those three days, swallowed up in darkness, as some of the most profitable time he ever spent.

Men and women behind bars tell a similar story. Countless times, we hear them say that without prison, they would be dead or living on the streets. Without prison, they would never have met Jesus Christ. Without prison, they would never have found true freedom.

Robert was one of those prisoners. Winding up in jail saved him from a worse fate on the streets. There, he met Jesus, attended Prison Fellowship seminars, and grew strong in his faith. When he was released, he felt called by God to go back into prison and preach the Good News he first learned “in the belly of the whale.” For years, he faithfully volunteered at Prison Fellowship evangelistic events across the country and headed prison ministry efforts at his church.

As we prepare our hearts for Easter, it’s valuable to remember the depths from which God has saved us. The hardest circumstances in our lives may have helped us gain a real understanding of His redemptive love. And that might be just the Good News someone around us needs to hear

2:30PM Daily for 2.3 Million Prisoners

By Jason Bruce | Posted March 2, 2015

Meme_P4P Sample 1

There are approximately 2.3 million prisoners in America that need our intercession and petition to God. They need to know that we are praying for them and we need to spread the word to other believers to pray for them.

That’s why starting this March, at 2:30PM EST every weekday, Prison Fellowship will post a prayer reminder on its Facebook and Twitter pages using the hashtag #PRAY4PRISONERS, to encourage everyone to pause for a while and lift up these men and women behind bars and anyone affected by crime and incarceration.

We will be posting prayer requests on the general needs of prisoners as well as specific prayer requests submitted to us by inmates (their names and identities will be changed to protect their privacy).

Every prison ministry team needs prayer warriors lifting up the needs of prisoners. Even if you’ve never been inside a prison or jail, you can be a prayer warrior interceding before God for those who are incarcerated. Our goal is to get as many people involved in prison outreach and build an active movement of praying for for prisoners. So join us and become a faithful prayer warrior and speak blessings into the lives of prisoners. As the apostle Paul said,Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison … (Hebrews 13:3).”

Please remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, mark your calendars at 2:30pm every weekday and #PRAY4PRISONERS.

Join the Prison Fellowship Prayer Team here.

‘Free Minds’ Book Club Inspires Change

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted February 27, 2015
Free Minds Meeting (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Free Minds Meeting (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Thirteen years ago, two journalists—one who had become pen pals with a prisoner on death row—created a book club called Free Minds in a D.C. jail. Today, about 940 juvenile prisoners have participated, and Free Minds has expanded outside of the jail, too, so alumni can continue to support one another through written word after release.

Free Minds creates a safe place for these young men to share poems they’ve written, expressing their thoughts and emotions. The book club also helps to teach prisoners how to read, write, and answer letters from their families.

The Washington Post recently located a group of men that had been members of Free Minds while serving time in the D.C. jail.

One Free Minds alumnus named Phil Mosby, now 26 years old, remembers what the club did for him while he was incarcerated. “You have to keep on a mask in prison to survive, so people don’t mess with you. But then, Free Minds, it started feeling like a brotherhood.”

Although Phil was hesitant to begin writing poems when he started attending Free Minds, he found healing when he wrote a response to the memoir Makes Me Want to Holler by Nathan McCall. Phil wrote his response as a tribute to an old friend from the streets: “When I feel your family’s presence, Makes me wanna cry, When I know I could have talked to you before your death, Makes me wanna cry.” The other club members affirmed Phil’s feeling and supported him as he worked through it all.

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Working Toward a Perfect Imperfect World

By Elisabeth Boehm | Posted February 27, 2015

The following post originally appeared on the Justice Fellowship blog.

In a perfect world, people wouldn’t commit crimes. They wouldn’t hurt one another or themselves.

In a perfect imperfect world, people who committed crimes would receive a just punishment, one that was proportionate to the harm they had caused. Wrongdoing would receive a right response.

We don’t live in a perfect world, and on this side of eternity, to strive for it would be foolish. We are unable to alter or eradicate the sin nature of the human race. Only the Lord will accomplish this when He returns to “make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

The perfect imperfect world, however, is one that we should be working to establish—a world where the biblical principles of restorative justice are integrated into the systems of governance, providing the foundation of the criminal justice system.

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Moving Forward with Ministry

By Steve Rempe | Posted February 27, 2015
Pathway_to_Freedom_1

Participants in the Pathway to Freedom program. (Photo courtesy Pathway to Freedom.)

It is an unfortunate and sad reality that we live in a world with limited resources.  Sometimes that means that meaningful programs and projects are discontinued for a want of funding or manpower.  But when God is at the heart of an endeavor, we know that ultimately all things will work together for His good.

From 2006 to 2011, Prison Fellowship operated its InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) program at the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ Wrightsville Unit.  During those five years, the reentry program, based on the life and teachings of Jesus, served over 200 men and nearly 100 women in the two Wrightsville facilities.  Many of these men and women went on to begin new lives in their communities and with their families, giving Prison Fellowship and IFI much of the credit for their transformation.

Unfortunately, a decrease in funding necessitated the closing of the IFI program at Wrightsville in 2011.  But the end of that program didn’t mean that God had stopped working in the lives of those inside that prison.

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A New Task Force for Criminal Justice Reform

By John Stonestreet | Posted February 23, 2015

The following post and interview originally appeared on the BreakPoint website.

The criminal justice system was a vital concern to the late Chuck Colson and the organization he founded, Prison Fellowship. The need for Reform is ongoing. And to that end, John Stonestreet welcomes former Congressman J. C. Watts, who’s chairman of the new congressional task force working to promote both reform and rehabilitation.

J.C._Watts

Task Force Chair J. C. Watts

Watts, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003, is someone Chuck Colson respected deeply. So when Congress set out to select a chair for the bipartisan Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, Watts was the natural choice.

“I think the life of Chuck Colson puts a smile on the face of our Lord,” says Watts. “Chuck gives us a picture of what life can look like even after mistakes. And as I said, I don’t think there’s any such thing as a lost cause in Heaven.”

Together with eight other members, Watts is examining the challenges to the federal corrections system and developing practical solutions for Congress. The task force also includes Alan B. Mollohan, a Democratic Congressman from West Virginia, as well as attorneys, a federal judge, an economist, a criminologist, a reentry specialist, and state corrections officials. Another key member is Prison Fellowship CEO Jim Liske, who not only brings to bear the legacy of Chuck Colson, but the ongoing policy expertise of Justice Fellowship, Prison Fellowship Ministries’ justice reform wing.

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Keeping Watch with Jesus

By Jim Liske | Posted February 23, 2015

   Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” – Matthew 26:38

Jesus’ deep sorrow in this verse takes on special significance when we see it through a prisoner’s eyes. As He sat in the Garden of Gethsemane with some of His closest friends, Jesus was waiting to go through a judicial process. He was about to be arrested, imprisoned, tried, and eventually executed. He would be separated from those He loved. His so-called friends would pretend they never knew Him. He would be mocked, shamed, and rejected by society.

Only another prisoner could fully understand the way He felt at that moment.

In that moment of anguish, Jesus reached out with a simple request: “Stay here and keep watch with me.” He wanted His friends to be present with Him.

We can do the same thing today for prisoners facing the anguish and solitude of life in prison. Though in the vast majority of cases their punishment is deserved, their need for companionship, for trusted friends and mentors who can speak the love of Jesus into their lives, is huge.

And the impact of loving prisoners is awe-inspiring. It yields lives changed forever by the grace and truth of Christ, and it changes volunteers forever, too! As we go behind bars, remembering the prisoner according to the command of Jesus, we learn more than we ever thought possible about God’s redemptive power at work in our own lives.

Learn more about volunteering to go behind bars with Prison Fellowship by visiting http://www.prisonfellowship.org/get-involved/.

Serving Others for Lent

By Steve Rempe | Posted February 20, 2015
Pope Francis visits Palo Cathedral in one of his sorties in Leyte Province Saturday, January 17, 2015. The Pope announced his shortened visit to the province due to on going typhoon in the area. He made a quick blessing to items presented to him by some of the churchgoers in the cathedral before leaving. (Photo by Benhur Arcayan/Malacanang Photo Bureau)

Pope Francis

Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent, the 40-day (excluding Sundays) period of reflection and repentance preceding Easter.

For many Christians, Lent is a period of fasting—a chance to give up something they might otherwise enjoy as a reminder of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.  Some choose to forgo sweets, or beef, or alcohol, while others use the time to take a break from technology and social media.  Still others use the period as a time to become more disciplined in personal devotions or physical activity.

This year, however, Pope Francis is encouraging a different kind of lenten discipline to millions of Roman Catholics around the world—a fast from self-centeredness and indifference toward others.

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