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Wednesday Nights

By Prison Fellowship | Posted April 1, 2015
Steve speaks to a group of incarcerated men.

Steve speaks to a group of incarcerated men.

To look at Steve today, you’d never guess that he served five years in prison. He has a great job as a pharmaceutical market analyst. His family, friends, and church are proud of him. And they should be.

But once a week, on Wednesday nights, Steve turns back the clock.

On Wednesday nights, Steve heads back behind prison walls. He shares his story with men who are much like he was—as good as dead.

His message is simple: “God works in mysterious ways, but there is no mystery in turning your life over to God. He will bless you more than you can imagine if you put your faith in Him.”

That message changed Steve’s life when he had almost thrown it away.

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L.W.O.P.

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted March 31, 2015
thinkstock.com/Ossi Lehtonen

thinkstock.com/Ossi Lehtonen

L.W.O.P. That stands for life without parole—a sentence that nearly 50,000 U.S. prisoners are serving.

In the last several years, the percentage of incarcerated men and women serving L.W.O.P has risen by more than 22 percent. And nearly one in four people sentenced to L.W.O.P. were convicted of crimes that occurred before they turned 18 years old. When these young men and women look into their futures, they see many decades behind bars with no hope of ever returning to their families or communities. It’s easy for them to give up on themselves when they find out good behavior and educational training will get them nowhere with the parole board.

But at Prison Fellowship we know that God values every life, and that men and women behind bars can experience freedom in Christ, too—no matter the length of their sentences.

This Easter, we’ll be going into prison to share this message with people who may have given up hope. We will proclaim that God can transform their lives and use their talents for His glory, even behind bars. They can be free in Him because Jesus paid the price for all of our sins.

Earlier this month at a commencement ceremony in Indiana State Prison, six incarcerated men graduated with a certificate in Christian studies from Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary. One of these graduates, Kelly Holland, is serving life without parole, but he’s grasped the hope of Christ, and that’s made all the difference.

“I am serving two life sentences without parole, better known as L.W.O.P.,” Kelly says. “I have changed those letters to mean something else. I will love, worship, obey and praise God. Every Christian should serve a sentence of L.W.O.P.”

As Easter Sunday nears, please join us in praying that, like Kelly, more men and women begin to love, worship, obey, and praise God behind bars, too.

A Father’s Heart

By Jim Liske | Posted March 30, 2015

Liske_154In the Gospels, we get a sense of the profound, loving relationship between God the Father and His Son, Jesus.

Only once do we see the Father and Son separated. As Jesus hangs on the cross between two thieves, with the weight of the world’s sin on His shoulders, He feels the agony of parental absence. Though the Father loves Jesus with an inexpressible love, He could not intervene and bring Him down from the cross and still bring about the salvation and redemption of you and me. He could not do the one thing the heart of a father would be screaming to do for Jesus.

In order to adopt us, who were lost in our sin, God denied the request of His blameless, beloved Son. How much He must love us! How deep His empathy must run!

That’s the message that Prison Fellowship has been bringing into prisons around the country for nearly four decades, at Easter and throughout the year. Men and women behind bars might feel discarded by society, by their former friends, and even by the members of their own family, but God is eager to adopt them. In fact, He went through unimaginable pain so He could have that privilege.

That message of love and belonging is so powerful that it changes hearts and lives for all eternity. This Easter weekend, I am thrilled to be celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus alongside men serving time at the Carol Vance Unit in Texas.

God Redeems Fernando

By Rebekah L. Stratton | Posted March 24, 2015
Fernando

Fernando

When Fernando arrived in prison, he felt his life was beyond repair.

He had grown up on the northwest side of Houston, selling drugs and committing robberies. At 17, he was convicted of aggravated robbery and began his 15 years in prison.

Behind bars, Fernando continued to run with the reckless crowd, drinking and getting into trouble.

But then Fernando had the opportunity  to join Prison Fellowship’s InnerChange Freedom Initiative, an intensive faith-based reentry program at the Carol Vance Unit in Houston, Texas. The program staff and volunteers introduced Fernando to his Heavenly Father, and to a group of young men who were living for the Lord. These men showed Fernando that he could still have fun while honoring God.

The classes he took brought him closer to God and to his family, and he began to sense peace in his heart. Through your support, God used Prison Fellowship’s reentry program to instill in him core values, like responsibility and accountability, which have helped him live a successful life on the outside.

Upon release in 2008, Fernando chose to relocate to Fort Worth—where other program alumni live—rather than return to the temptations of his old lifestyle in Houston.

Fernando is now married with a three-year old son and manages four resort hotels. He is a part of a local church body and returns to the unit often to share his story with incarcerated men.

“The program works,” he tells them.

A recent study of the reentry program in Minnesota revealed that prisoner participation decreases the risk of re-incarceration by 26 to 40 percent.

Thanks to Prison Fellowship partners, men and women like Fernando are experiencing bright futures!

Why It Matters

By Jim Liske | Posted March 23, 2015

Liske_154Many friends like you help us with Angel Tree year after year, whether it’s by praying, giving financially, wrapping a gift, or working at a Christmas party. This past Christmas, you helped us match 330,663 children with volunteers who delivered gifts, the Gospel, and personal messages from moms and dads behind bars.

But have you ever wondered whether Angel Tree truly matters? Does its impact continue once the wrapping paper has been thrown away, or the gift is worn out and forgotten?

Here’s just one story from an Angel Tree church coordinator, whose testimony reminds us why Angel Tree matters throughout the year, and often for all eternity:

We have an [Angel Tree] family, who had their inmate step-father and father die in prison last year. We, as a church, have continued to walk alongside the mother, Jennifer, and her kids. She has been attending our church for a few years and was able to lead her inmate husband to the Lord before he passed away. This year is the first time she has been able to participate with the program and she made deliveries. She was so elated to help and so blessed to share with other families. She wants to do it again next year.

Angel Tree supporters didn’t just give Jennifer’s children a gift at Christmas; they helped connect Jennifer and her family with a caring church community that walks beside them all year long, in joy and pain, and helps draw them closer to the God who is restoring their lives. What gift could matter more?

Learn more about the continuing impact of Angel Tree at www.angeltree.org.

Restorative Justice Works (No Matter What You Believe)

By Elisabeth Boehm | Posted March 20, 2015

The following article originally appeared on the Justice Fellowship website.

Restorative justice works. Its principles are effective in facilitating individual change and impeding the cycle of crime whenever they are applied. However, it is helpful to understand what root issue restorative justice really helps to treat and why it’s a better response to harm in our society. But understanding these things becomes impossible without the aid of biblical truth.

Identifying the Root Cause

Certain Chicago schools are implementing a restorative justice approach as part of the city’s Embrace Restorative Justice in Schools Collaborative, and it’s working, even as those pushing the approach place it in a secular framework. In a recent Huffington Post article, author Nancy Michaels describes the benefits of a restorative justice response to an inner-city shooting involving teenagers, and she speculates on the reasons for teen violence.

“The ongoing violence among our youth leaves us to question why this happens,” she writes. “Do the reasons lie in law enforcement, education, economics, parenting, or elsewhere? Or does the structural violence built into deeply racist systems lead ’hurt people to hurt people?’”

While this list of potential reasons may identify proximate causes to individual acts of violence, or even deeper influencers several places removed, it does not identify the root problem.

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The New Normless

By Eric Metaxas | Posted March 17, 2015

The following post originally appeared aired as a BreakPoint commentary on March 17.

EricMetaxasDuring a recent visit to Swarthmore College, political scientist Robert Putnam of Harvard asked everyone in the room whose parents had graduated from college to raise their hands. Not surprisingly, nearly everyone raised their hands.

As it turns out, the ability to get into elite colleges isn’t the only thing that separates the children of the college-educated from kids whose parents didn’t graduate from college.

This separation was the subject of a recent New York Times column by David Brooks. In it, Brooks discussed the findings of Putnam’s new book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” and, just as importantly, he discussed how we got to this point.

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Whatever the Cost

By Mark Hubbell | Posted March 17, 2015
Jimmy

Jimmy

Through the years, one of the things that has impressed me most has been the depth of commitment I see in those serving with Prison Fellowship. It is breathtaking to see the lengths followers of Christ will go to serve Him. We got a fresh reminder of this recently in Spokane.

Jimmy is a volunteer on the Spokane Community Reentry Team. He has a strong desire to serve Christ, and as a former prisoner he knows well the importance of having a solid ministry to come alongside Christian prisoners returning to the community.

Jimmy is actually just getting on his feet himself. He has not found a regular job yet, as his liver is failing and he is on supplementary security income. He can no longer do manual labor. Consequently, his finances are very tight. He lives in a rural area and has had to move several times. He has no transportation of his own, so he must walk, take public transportation, or hitchhike to his destinations.

When Jimmy contacted us to become a Prison Fellowship volunteer, he learned of our online volunteer training. He was thrilled to take it. But because he did not own a computer, he walked six and a half miles to the Spokane County Library. When he found out there was a computer usage limit of 90 minutes, Jimmy made the five-mile trek to the Spokane City Library to finish the training.

Jimmy repeated this process until he completed the training and became a certified  Prison Fellowship volunteer.

When asked about his long walks, Jimmy recalls that he was frustrated by the fact that he couldn’t hitch a ride. His feet hurt, and he was thirsty. Yet he remembers thinking about how God was opening an opportunity for him to serve his Lord.

“He was providing the opportunity. My job was to get ‘er done!’ I had to exert the physical effort to make it happen. Whatever the cost … Christ died for me; can I not endure a little discomfort and stress for Him?” says Jimmy.

Is it any wonder God uses men and women like Jimmy so mightily?


Mark Hubbell is a Prison Fellowship area director for the Northwest region.

Reaching the Unreachable

By Jim Liske | Posted March 16, 2015

Liske_154“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” – Acts 12:5 (NIV)

When Peter was thrown into prison at the order of King Herod, there was nothing his friends could do for him. They had no way to reach him—except to pray with their whole hearts. Their prayers were a game-changer. Though Peter was chained between two trained guards, an angel came in, took off his chains, and led him out the gate.

Ministering to men and women behind bars can feel just as impossible as rescuing Peter from the Roman guards. How can we make the freedom of Christ seem relevant to someone stuck in a small cell 23 hours a day? How can the message of redemption and restoration enter a heart as hard as concrete? How do we reach those who, from a human perspective, are unreachable?

The answer is the same for us as it was for the early followers of Jesus. We start by praying, continually and with our whole hearts, for all those affected by the cycle of crime and incarceration. We trust the Holy Spirit to bring about the spiritual freedom of men and women created in the image of God. And miracles follow.

Did you know that, in addition to giving and volunteering, you can support Prison Fellowship as a part of our prayer team? We are excited to offer you the opportunity to join with a community of prayer warriors all across the country who are praying for prisoners, their families, and the many ongoing events and activities that affect their lives. Learn more today at http://www.prisonfellowship.org/prayerteam/.

Why Ex-Prisoners Can’t Find Work

By Steve Rempe | Posted March 11, 2015

Not_Hiring_FinalThere are many challenges facing men and women as they leave prison and return to their communities.  For some, there is the difficulty of simply finding a place to live.  For others, there is the danger of falling into old habits and renewing old acquaintances.  And for many, the lack of any kind of mentoring or support system can result into a return to criminal behavior.

But perhaps the the biggest hurdle for most ex-prisoners is the challenge to find long-term employment.  Without it, lodging is hard to obtain, and the pressure increases to use illegal means of support.

A recent story in the New York Times looks at some of the underlying reasons why it is so hard for former prisoners to procure jobs.  A primary reason has to do with the background checks being performed by potential employers.

To be sure, employers can and should practice due diligence when hiring workers.  To not do so, considering all the information that is readily available is negligent at best, and can open the employer to legal action should the new hire return to his or her criminal ways.  But relying on these background checks alone can be highly prejudicial, and can serve to further a destructive cycle of behavior of which the potential hire is struggling to leave.

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