Jim Liske

Richard’s Release

By Jim Liske | Posted July 28, 2014

Liske_154A few weeks ago I was in a Florida prison, visiting the residents of a faith-based dorm there. As soon as he saw me, one man named Richard came up to me and gave me a bear hug, even though the prison regulations discourage physical contact between visitors and prisoners. He was just too excited to tell me his good news!

Richard was one of the first graduates of The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) in a Florida prison. TUMI is a rigorous, seminary-level program that prepares men and women behind bars to be Christian leaders in their facilities and back in the community after they are released.

Richard has been one of the leaders in the faith-based dorm since he graduated, but his life is about to enter an exciting new phase. He couldn’t wait to hug me because he was about to be released!

I have spoken with many prisoners who are terrified of the prospect of being released. They don’t know where they are going or how they will live. They don’t know what to expect. Richard’s joyful face told a completely different story. He had already made contact with a church that he planned to join, and where he would have an opportunity to serve. Instead of a jarring, nerve-wracking reentry experience, Richard was anticipating a smooth transition from one area of Christian service to another. He couldn’t wait to get started.

Programs like TUMI are true game-changers. As the TUMI program and other faith-based reentry initiatives expand across the country, more and more former prisoners are being prepared for lives of purpose and belonging after prison, instead of returning to lives of crime. That’s good news for everyone! Learn more today.

A Call to Restore

By Jim Liske | Posted July 21, 2014

How are Christians called to serve our broken neighbors?  In a sermon to Ridge Point Community Church in Holland, Michigan, Prison Fellowship Ministries President and CEO Jim Liske discusses the importance of being “people of restoration” for those in need of God’s healing.

“Our destiny in faith is to be people of restoration,” says Liske. “And that means going to where the brokenness is, and determining that we are going to bring the Kingdom.  We’re going to bring God’s rule and reign, and we’re going to bring the Gospel and we’re going to bring grace, and we’re going to refuse to identify people by their past.  And our faith is going to say, ‘No, hope is here, I can see the improvement, and God is going to empower it.’  That’s our task.  That’s our opportunity.  That’s our calling.”

Valuing One Another

By Jim Liske | Posted July 18, 2014

Liske_154In the aftermath of any senseless act of violence, we cry out, “Why?” We feel more vulnerable in the communities we live in. We reach out for solutions that would prevent something similar from happening in the future. But most often, we are left without any real answers.

In my work with the incarcerated all over the country, I find myself in a unique position to get answers to the tough question of “why.” While visiting a prison I asked a group of men, all sentenced for murder, why they took another person’s life. All of them answered the same way: They didn’t see the victim as a person, but as an object that stood between them and what they wanted. They all agreed that if they would have rightfully recognized that victim’s human value, they never could have killed them.

It turns out that Scripture offers us a simple, time-tested antidote to this damaging perspective: “Love one another” (John 13:34); “value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3); and “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).

When Judge Tom Kohl’s daughter was murdered, he took these words to heart. This Prison Fellowship® volunteer went to visit his daughter’s killer, explain the love of Jesus, and offer forgiveness. Judge Kohl’s testimony has helped many people behind bars to find forgiveness and peace with God. But that would never have happened unless he first recognized the God-given value in another person – even in the man who took his daughter’s life.

Jesus’ call to “remember the prisoner” goes hand in hand with this command to value one another. When we do, we naturally build the kind of communities we all want to live in.

Seeing the Invisible

By Jim Liske | Posted July 16, 2014

Liske_154Today there are approximately 2.7 million children with a mom or dad behind bars in this country. There’s no easy way to tell who these boys and girls are. They are all over the country, in busy cities and sleepy towns, in gated communities and run-down projects. Many of them are carrying emotional burdens far too heavy for their years.

The Church is God’s Plan A for loving the hurting, and local churches, with roots deep in their communities, are the group best positioned to embrace these children and their families, wherever they are. Angel Tree churches sign up to do just that.

Margo Nance volunteers to coordinate the Angel Tree program at Embassy Church in Cook County, Illinois, where many prisoners’ children live.

“Angel Tree affords us an opportunity to go to people we don’t know and minister to them, where we know the need is great,” Margo says.

As an example, Margo shares how a church representative called a child’s caregiver and heard a heartbreaking story of need. The family, including a newborn baby, had just lost its home in a fire. Touched by the family’s difficult circumstances, the church went above and beyond to provide much-needed items for the entire family. The caregiver was so blessed by the church’s restorative concern for her family she came back later to ask for prayer.

If we want to make the invisible Kingdom visible, we must go out of our way to notice those who feel invisible, to come alongside them and say, “You are not alone. God sees you. He loves you, and so do we.”

Churches large and small, urban and rural, can embrace this joyous calling. Learn how to become an Angel Tree church at www.angeltree.org.

On a Mission to Restore

By Jim Liske | Posted July 7, 2014

Liske_154The Ghent Altarpiece is a magnificent piece of art. It was commissioned in the early 15th century, and it depicts the most important figures and scenes in the Christian story.

During World War II, the Nazis stole this priceless work of art – along with countless others – and hid it deep underground in a mine, intending to one day put it in a museum dedicated to the glory of the Fuhrer.

As the Allied forces gained ground in North Africa and then in Europe, the United States formed the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program, a group of art experts mobilized to identify, rescue, and protect cultural treasures from the ravages of war. The film “The Monuments Men” recount how this unique group, often rushed through basic training and deployed beyond the front lines, recovered the Ghent Altarpiece – among many other precious objects – and returned it to its rightful home.

There is a powerful lesson for us in this. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1, NIV).

God has called all of us to be restorers. We are to help people get back into a right relationship with Him, with others, and with all of creation. Like the men of the MFAA, it’s our job to see where men and women who bear God’s image are in jeopardy, and to gently and lovingly restore them to their rightful place, in spite of the danger and discomfort that might be involved.

What a privilege that we have the mission of restoration! Learn how to get involved at www.prisonfellowship.org today.

The One Who Never Leaves

By Jim Liske | Posted June 27, 2014

Liske_154On a recent trip to Minnesota, I visited with the ladies who are part of the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) unit in Shakopee, the only women’s prison in the state. I asked them, “If you could tell the people who support this program anything, what would you say?”

I’ll always remember one woman in particular who spoke up. She was meek, soft-spoken, and middle-aged, with dark blond hair and glasses.

She explained that, in the program, she really looked at her life story for the first time. She saw that everyone in her life had left her. Her mom left. Her dad left. A couple of different husbands left her. As teenagers, her children wanted nothing to do with her and distanced themselves from her. Because of her great fear of abandonment, she was very needy and clung tightly to the people around her. Eventually she committed a terrible crime out of her overwhelming neediness and fear.

To the financial partners who make IFI possible, this woman, who will spend the rest of her life in prison, sends this message (which I’m paraphrasing): “I can’t believe there are people out there like you who have never met me, who don’t know me, and yet will invest in this program for me. Even though I’ve committed this terrible crime, you won’t leave me. And now I know that Jesus has forgiven me, and He will never leave me.”

Now, this woman is committed to spending the rest of her many years in prison letting younger women know that they don’t have to go through life angry, bitter, and blaming others. They, too, can be wholly and deeply loved by a Father who will never leave them.

Flooded by Grace

By Jim Liske | Posted June 23, 2014

Liske_154A young woman I met recently was 22 years old. Her adult life had barely begun, but she had already done quite a bit of hard living. She was one of several children born to an overburdened mom. Her dad was not around to help.

She learned to sell drugs. She got good at it, and she even helped set her mother up in a nice apartment. But her criminal activities caught up with her. When I met her, she wasn’t wearing a college cap and gown and listening to a commencement speech, like thousands of other young women her age were that week. She was wearing a prison uniform in Shakopee, Minnesota.

In prison, this young woman was getting ready to enter a values-based reentry program, using Prison Fellowship curriculum, at the women’s prison in Shakopee, where she will get the tools she needs to start her life afresh. She had just been accepted into the program, but already she felt the love and friendship offered to her in that community.

In relationships, she was accustomed to using other people or being used by them. When grace came into her life in the form of loving volunteers and fellow prisoners, it overwhelmed her like a flood. She wept as she tried to explain what it meant to her.

Our nation’s prisons and jails need a flood of grace. They need wave after wave of God’s unexpected, undeserved love and mercy, shown through His Body, the Church. Will you help us send the flood with your prayers, gifts, and time? Learn how at www.prisonfellowship.org.

Dads Matter

By Jim Liske | Posted June 13, 2014

Liske_154Ninety percent of runaways and homeless children are from fatherless homes. So are 63 percent of teens who commit suicide, and 39 percent of jail inmates. When it comes to kids’ well-being, nothing is more beneficial than a loving, supportive relationship with their fathers.

As part of our calling to redeem the effects of crime through the Gospel, and see true generational impact, we are committed to training men and women behind bars to fulfill their God-given potential as moms and dads. Every day, we see parents coming to realize what an important, positive role they can play in their children’s lives!

Recently, we received a letter from Jason, who read an article about fatherhood in our newspaper for prisoners. He writes:

I have turned my life over to my Father in Heaven to do with as He sees fit. I got a newspaper from a fellow Christian at our last prison church service … One article in particular drew me to my knees and made me cry and beg God to forgive me and help me with my journey of repairing my relationship with my three boys (ages 13, 18, 19). The article was entitled ‘Becoming a Better Dad.’ I want to be a good father, like my Father in Heaven is to me.

This Father’s Day, please join me in prayer alongside Jason and every other incarcerated father who is seeking to become a better dad, building a new relationship with their children in place of the brokenness of the past!

God’s Vision for Families

By Jim Liske | Posted June 6, 2014

Liske_154I had the privilege of performing a wedding last weekend. The bride is a godly young woman, and the groom is a fine young man and Jesus follower. As a couple they are a matching set. One can see how God has created them for each other and will use them mightily.

Not only did each of them have spiritually mature, dynamic parents in the front row, but in the second row was a roster of Jesus-following grandparents. Behind them sat uncles and aunts, extended family, and friends all celebrating the bride and groom. They are, at the very least, the third generation of Jesus-followers in their family. We celebrated that.

At the reception, as I watched the bride and her dad dance, I was suddenly very sad. My emotions caught me off guard. Why was I feeling grief when the bride and her dad were celebrating? I suddenly realized why: Our work reminds me that hundreds of thousands of dads and daughters will never celebrate like this. The joy I watched was an anomaly.

Most men in prison did not have a good relationship with their dads. Growing up without good examples of how to be fathers themselves, many incarcerated dads don’t have the skills to help their own children, and the cycle continues. Those families aren’t experiencing the joys of multiple generations following Jesus together.

After the sadness came righteous anger. This needs to change! You and I have been called to be part of the transformation of families and the restoration of homes. I am determined that more dads, daughters, and whole families will experience the joy I saw last weekend, and since it is God’s will, it is possible. Let’s do it together! Learn how at www.prisonfellowship.org.

Saved For Someone

By Jim Liske | Posted May 30, 2014

Liske_154As my friend Quovadis Marshall, the director of spiritual development at Prison Fellowship Ministries, likes to say, Christians aren’t primarily saved from something – we are saved for Someone. Yes, Jesus, redeems us from our sins, and that’s hugely important. But we are saved in order to have a relationship with the living God who loves us. In John 17:3, Jesus prayed: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Recently I met a father whose son is incarcerated. In spite of the embarrassment and shame that the son’s crime has brought to their family, the father has persevered in visiting his son. He rejoiced when his son came to saving faith in Christ, but that was only the beginning of his son’s salvation story. He believes that God has a calling on his son’s life while he is behind bars, and after he is released to the community. He knows that his son is made for ongoing, loving communion with the triune God, a relationship that will yield fruit and bring blessing to the community that surrounds him!

Prison Fellowship Ministries is committed to bringing restoration to prisoners, ex-prisoners, their families, and the communities that surround them, so they can heal from the damaging effects of sin and rise to the full potential God has given to them. This happens through relationships: a growing relationship with God and relationships of caring and accountability within the Church and the community.

Will you be part of helping us build relationships that redeem and restore whole communities through the Gospel? Learn how at www.prisonfellowship.org.

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