We were being watched. At a worship service behind bars, I was sitting among some men that I remembered from a previous visit. I was jarred out of the music by the realization that officers armed with rifles were standing watch in “guard shacks” that extended from the walls of the auditorium. Earlier that morning, as I was coming through security, I learned that two officers had been involved in an accident. One had been killed, and the other was in critical condition. For this reason the atmosphere of this prison, never a joyful place, was particularly sorrowful and oppressive. The officers were shaken and grieved. As I got up to the podium to speak, the Spirit moved me to pray for the officers. I asked the prisoners to pray with me. We extended our hands toward the armed men in the guard shacks, as representatives of all the officers at the prison. We prayed for hope for the deceased officer’s family and healing for the man in the hospital. It was one of the most powerful, unifying experiences I have had in prison. The wall between officers and prisoners came down for a sweet, brief period. It was a little foretaste of heaven. Paul writes that there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28, NIV). I might add that in Jesus, there is no distinction between those wearing jumpsuits, those wearing the uniforms of officers, and those in the clothing of volunteers. We are all in need of God’s grace and all called to share it with one another. To learn how you can be part of building this movement of Christians united to restore all those affected by crime and incarceration, visit www.prisonfellowship.org today.
Roberto and I had never met before, but neither that—nor the prison regulations against physical contact with visitors—kept him from giving me a bone-crushing hug.
“I’m so thankful you are here,” Roberto said, towering over me while a grin stretched across his face. “I want to help!”
I soon found out that my new friend has “been with Prison Fellowship” much longer than I have. Roberto led a very violent life before becoming incarcerated. But while he was serving time in Iowa, he met Jesus. He was discipled in a Prison Fellowship faith-based unit and became a leader in the church behind the walls there.
After serving his sentence in Iowa, Roberto was taken back to Illinois to do additional time. He is eager to know what Prison Fellowship programming might soon be available at his prison in Illinois. He wants to be a servant, helping to grow the Christian community right around him.
Too soon, Roberto had to go. Officers were taking the men back to their cell blocks. As he glanced over his shoulder, he said, “Please hurry. I’m ready to help!”
Roberto’s plea is one I hear echoed all over the country. Pastors and their churches want to help restore their communities that have been affected by crime and incarceration. Members of the Church behind the walls want tools to study God’s Word deeply and become ambassadors for Jesus in prison. Legislators and corrections leaders of goodwill want to build a truly restorative criminal justice system.
With the support of countless friends like you, it is our privilege to equip and convene diverse groups united by the desire to bring restoration—including prisoners like Roberto. They are ready to help. Let’s hurry.
In the community where I grew up, my father had a friend named Albert. Albert was known throughout town as a drunk, but my father stuck by him, anyway. He saw not who Albert was, but who he could be—a child of God full of love and joy.
So one day when Albert got into trouble, the local police department called my dad. While intoxicated, Albert had been sprayed by a skunk. Now he was dunking himself in the town fountain, trying to get away from the stench. My dad drove to town, cleaned Albert up, and brought him home.
I will never forget the image of Albert, drunk and soaking wet, attempting to get clean. What a powerful picture of where each of us has been! We have all tried, on our own strength, to get free of the consequences of our sin, only to make an even worse mess of things. We have thought we could earn or steal God’s grace by fixing ourselves, when the only way out of our predicament is to confess our brokenness and let our Friend rescue us.
Before Albert died of cancer, he stopped trying to steal grace and simply received it. He made his peace with God, and after many years of investing in his life, my dad had the joy of helping him grow as a disciple of Jesus.
Men and women behind bars sometimes feel as though they have fallen too far to ever be included in God’s family. But the truth is that none of us deserve grace. We are all broken and need mercy. That’s what makes it such a joy to bring the Gospel to prisoners, sharing the same message that brings freedom to everyone who will call out to Jesus.
The greatest gift in Zachary’s life is his daughter. Like many new dads, his whole world changed when she was born. “She was the light in my world of endless darkness. She made me see,” he wrote in a recent letter to Prison Fellowship. He was home for her first Christmas, but after that, he needed to come to terms with wrong choices he had made in the past. He went through detox, turned himself in, and went to prison to serve a 10-year term. His daughter will be 9 years old before he is eligible for parole.
It haunts Zachary that his daughter is paying for his crimes, too. “She goes without daddy every day and is affected daily by my mistakes,” he says. But he does his best to strengthen their bond until he is released. Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program is an important part of maintaining their relationship.
“I have used your program for four years now,” Zachary writes, “and you have never disappointed my daughter yet. It’s not really the gifts, it’s the fact that she feels like her daddy has taken the time to get her something, and that’s what makes it so magical to her.”
“What I am trying to say is thank you so much for everything that you have done and the gifts you haven given to my Gift, that mean so much to her you couldn’t possibly understand. Even if it was just a book it would mean more to her than all the presents she gets from anyone else because she knows daddy loves her.”
For more than 30 years friends like you have helped keep parents and their children connected through a Christmas gift and the Good News of Jesus Christ. To learn how you can help, visit www.angeltree.org today.
When I was growing up my father had a favorite saying. “There are two types of people in the world,” he would say, “those who need to share the Gospel, and those who need to hear it. So if you’re not sharing it …”
The words he left unsaid did most of the talking, and I always knew he meant it sincerely. My father had become a Christian as an adult, and he had a profound understanding of his own need for grace and his responsibility to share grace with others, including former prisoners that he befriended and gave work to.
My father’s simple piece of wisdom has stuck with me over the decades as a kind of plumb line, and it helps me to sort my priorities in life. Is a particular activity or commitment forwarding the message of God’s truth and grace? If not, is it really deserving of my time and resources?
With your help Prison Fellowship is committed to giving as many prisoners as possible an opportunity to hear and respond to God’s free offer of salvation. Every year we collaborate with like-minded ministries to hold evangelistic events on prison yards across the country, and we distribute more than 600,000 copies of Inside Journal, a newspaper with fresh and engaging presentations of the Gospel, to jails and prisons in all 50 states.
Just like you and me, men and women behind bars need to hear the Gospel. Won’t you help us share it with them? Learn more at http://www.prisonfellowship.org/programs/evangelism/
“Restore us, LORD God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” – Psalm 80:19
To restore something, in a spiritual sense, is to return it to the state God intended for it. God created men and women in His image and gave us the privilege of loving Him and one another. He has called us to glorify Him and serve those around us, so that we can live in perfect community with Him and one another.
We’ve all chosen to reject God’s purpose and plan for our lives. Some of us have chosen to do so in such a manner that we have landed in prison. Those of us who have, by grace, repented of our wrongs, have done so with the help of people who have guided and cared for us on our own paths to restoration.
Now we are called to pay it forward. We must, through God’s power and grace, shine a light on Jesus’ road to restoration for those affected by crime and incarceration. If we don’t, we will have hoarded the Gospel. If we refuse, men and women will remain far from God. We must not allow that.
You can play a vital part in the restoration of all those affected by crime and incarceration, returning them to the joy, peace, and wholeness God intends. Learn how at www.prisonfellowship.org. Men and women behind bars and their families are counting on us
In a major criminal justice reform speech this week, President Obama brought attention to the steep rise in America’s prison population over the last few decades—and its collateral consequences for prisoners’ children.
“Around one million fathers are behind bars,” the president said. “Around one in nine African-American kids has a parent in prison. What is that doing to our communities? What’s that doing to our children? Our nation is being robbed of men and women who could … be more actively involved in their children’s lives …”
As he pointed out, incarceration is a weighty problem with serious consequences, and we will need to address it in the public square and in every branch of government for a long time to come. But there’s also some really good news right now. This summer, hundreds of thousands of incarcerated parents are signing their children up to receive a Christmas gift and the Gospel through Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree Christmas program.
These children won’t just receive a wrapped present—with help from thousands of volunteers, they’ll get a moment of much-needed connection with an absent parent and the message of the Heavenly Father’s love for them. For many, it’s life-changing.
Will you help? As parents sign their children up for Angel Tree, we’re recruiting thousands of churches and organization from every state to embody God’s love for prisoners and their families. To learn more and sign up, visit angeltree.org or call 1-800-55-ANGEL
I’ve only ever been a member of one prison gang. Some time ago I was made an honorary member of “God’s Gang for Change,” the faith-based dorm at a correctional facility in Alabama.
On a recent visit I had the privilege of celebrating a worship service with my fellow “gang members.” I challenged them with a message about the life of Moses. Though he was an exiled murderer, God called him to loosen the chains of an entire nation.
Like Moses, the men in this unit are not people the world would choose to become leaders. But God sees their true worth, and they are becoming men who take responsibility for their own choices and take care of others.
One young man I met stood out from the others. He pulled a chair to the back wall and sat alone before the service. His body language was standoffish, and he had the telltale marks of an addict. When I talked to him, he told me that his name is Troy, and he has nine more months to serve. To be honest, I grew very worried about him. He didn’t yet seem to have a good plan for overcoming his addiction and finding support upon release.
I’m praying for Troy, and I have hope for him. God has placed him among mature, older believers in Jesus, right there in the prison. They are determined to love him, and as the Spirit continues to work on Troy’s heart, they will be able to present him with a credible testimony of God’s work in their own lives. Like Moses, these members of God’s Gang for Change are prepared to lead the way to freedom
The world has watched events in Charleston, South Carolina, with awe—and for good reason. In the wake of yet another mass shooting, some of the victims’ loved ones have faced the shooter with forgiveness, prayer, and a heartfelt call to repentance. They have modeled the Gospel at the worst time in their lives.
The slain leaders of Emanuel AME Church must have been doing something very right before their lives were cut short. Long before disaster struck, they were laying the groundwork of a solid identity that hatred and violence would not be able to destroy. They were storing up tools in their community’s tool box, so they would be prepared to react in the face of the unthinkable.
From his reported statements, it seems that the shooter meant to sow division and discord. In Charleston, he failed; love is overcoming hatred. But elsewhere, the battle is raging. All over the country, prisons are empty of true community and full of division. Men and women behind bars are isolated, disconnected from their loved ones, and separated from God. They are in deep need of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption.
With your help, Prison Fellowship is working every day to bring the Gospel to prisoners and build up the community of Christians behind prison walls. Men and women who love Jesus are becoming powerful leaders for the Kingdom in their facilities, reducing violence and modeling His peace. To learn how, visit www.prisonfellowship.org.
The following post originally appeared on the Huffington Post website, and appears here with permission.
Father’s Day passes largely unmarked behind prison bars. For the men and women I’ve met, whose fathers were all too often dead, locked up, angry, violent, emotionally distant, or just plain gone, the third Sunday in June is nothing to celebrate.
More and more of us can relate. Today one in three American children grows up in a home without their biological father, and the national trend toward fatherlessness among all racial groups is an underlying factor in everything from gang violence to childhood obesity. Fatherlessness is part of the well-rehearsed script in media coverage of urban crime, entrenched poverty, and achievement gaps.
With its well-researched, widespread social consequences, fatherlessness is a plague on all our houses–not just the ones without good dads. But there’s some surprisingly good news. If good fathers matter so much–if they can raise their children’s test scores, keep them out of jail, help them graduate high school, protect them from poverty, and help them avoid drug abuse and premature sexual activity–then, just by supporting and empowering fathers, we can put a dent in some of our most intractable social problems.
Through works of grace, acts of justice, and proclaiming truth, Prison Fellowship Ministries is an expression of the church, bringing peace to a broken world.