Prison Fellowship

Raised Up to Minister

By Prison Fellowship | Posted December 6, 2012

Eric will tell you it’s not his parents’ fault that he’s in prison. He started using drugs as a teenager and then, before long, he was selling them. When a drug deal went bad, he killed a would-be customer.

“I wasn’t raised like that,” he says. “My mom and dad, they tried their hardest. Everything I’ve done was my decision.”

But, at age 17, Eric found himself convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Eric’s girlfriend was pregnant when he was locked up. Their daughter, Alexandria, would be born five months later.

Eric was an atheist when he went to prison and remained one for his first 9 1/2 years behind bars – until a fellow inmate reached out to him with the Gospel. His heart was also touched by the generosity of people who gave and made it possible for him to build a relationship with his young daughter, Alexandria, through Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree® Christmas program. As soon as he learned about Angel Tree, Eric signed up his daughter so she could receive Christmas presents in his name.

“She loves the presents,” says Eric. “The local church — they go all-out. It makes me feel good that people in the free world take their time to go out of their way to do something like that!”

When Eric was transferred to a different prison, he faltered in his faith. But Prison Fellowship had an active presence in his new facility. When a Christian inmate saw Eric trying to turn his life around, he invited him to join the Bible-based ministry program run by Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers. Eric enrolled right away and began to grow strong in his faith once again.

Eric comes up for parole in 2014, and he hopes to become the father he knows Alexandria needs. He also hopes to someday return to prisons to creatively preach the Word of God through a softball ministry. “I can reach the young generation because I can intertwine softball with the Word.” Eric says that he believes his mission is to influence young people so they do not make the same mistakes he did.

“I want to reach every prison in the state of Alabama,” says Eric, “because I feel that God can take me from where I was to where I’m at now, and He can do that with anyone.”

Eric’s vision is big and bold – but so is His God.

 

GO DEEPER: Help more parents like Eric re-establish a relationship with their hurting children at www.angeltree.org!

The Moving Walkway Test

By Jim Liske | Posted December 5, 2012

Rushing through an airport to catch a recent flight, I was able to take advantage of a moving walkway that sped up my journey – and then another. I was about five steps onto the second one when I realized it wasn’t moving. It looked just like the one about 30 feet behind me: same metal, moving floor sections, same Plexiglas sides, same thick rubber handrail, but it was standing still. It gave me no aid at all!

I had an odd feeling of being deceived.

I couldn’t help but wonder if that is the feeling that people have when they buy into a program or an idea, only to find out that the supposed benefits were too good to be true. What they put their faith and hope in did not help them in the long run. Looked good. Didn’t work.

There are lots of good programs out there doing good things, especially this time of year. But too often those good things are like broken moving walkways that take us nowhere of eternal significance.

At Prison Fellowship, we’re determined to give inmates and their families the things they need to have a better life now– like simple Christmas gifts and back-to-school supplies for inmates’ kids, or fair sentencing laws and access to rehabilitative programming for inmates doing time. But we can’t stop there. To truly “work,” programs must bring the broken close to the Healer, Jesus Christ. Only He can set prisoners free from sin and self. Only He can make families whole. Only He can give life that’s eternal. That’s why all our ministry behind bars and in the community has the Gospel at the center – and always will.

Reaching Out to Inmates in California

By Steve Rempe | Posted November 30, 2012

On November 3, Prison Fellowship’s Operation Starting Line (OSL), in cooperation with the Training Center in San Diego, offered inmates at the Calipatria State Prison in California the chance to enjoy a time of entertainment in the prison yard.  Skateboarding and bicycle exhibitions, musical performances, and arm wrestling competitions set the stage for the most important part of the afternoon – a presentation of the Gospel and testimonies from former inmates displaying the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.

Jon Lowrey, Prison Fellowship’s field director for southern California, was among the speakers who addressed the prisoners.  Team Soil provided a display of BMX skills and stunts, even allowing some of  the inmates a chance to be a part of the entertainment.

To learn more about Operation Starting Line and the many collaborating ministries that help to make events such as the one at Calipatria State Prison possible, click here.  To find out how you can be a part of future events such as this, please visit http://www.prisonfellowship.org/get-involved/.

Would You Jump?

By Jim Liske | Posted November 28, 2012

When fear and insecurity fill our hearts, we respond with selfish indifference to the needs of our neighbors. But when faith rules our lives, when we have wrestled with God and found Him true, we become secure in His ability to care for us, and we cease to doubt and fear.

As CEO of Prison Fellowship Ministries, it’s a big part of my job to invite people to partner with us in ministry, whether that means volunteering to go behind bars and lead a Bible study, rearranging the family budget to make a financial gift, or committing to regular prayer for inmates and their families. I get a thrill every time our partners make the leap from fear to faith, trusting God to meet their needs when they make sacrifices for the “least of these.”

When we have journeyed with God and have experienced His power, grace, and forgiveness for ourselves, our love for our neighbors will pour out of what we have been given, knowing God will replenish it continually. Love that comes from this depth of faith has the power of God. It transforms lives. It penetrates defenses. This love is not just a reflexive act of charity. It is the expression of a heart that is secure in the knowledge of God’s love. When we have felt God’s love and know He is capable in all things, we come alongside others with a sense of well-being that brings them the same security and hope.

Every day, Prison Fellowship volunteers and partners are making the leap from fear to faith, responding to God’s love by meeting the needs of inmates and their families. Will you jump with us?

The Neighbor Question

By Alyson R. Quinn | Posted November 21, 2012

In a recent opinion piece in The New York Times, writer Hanna Pylvainen asks the provocative question, “What do I owe my neighbor?” She wrestles with this problem after an acquaintance on her block asks him to bail him out of jail, and her deliberations are only complicated when Hurricane Sandy rips through New York, possibly endangering the inmate population of Rikers Island – her neighbor included.

Defining our ethical obligations to our neighbors has always been tricky.

Jesus once told a crowd that they would fulfill the spirit of Mosaic law if they loved God and loved their neighbors as themselves. But one man, who St. Luke tells us “wanted to justify himself,” asked a follow-up question: “Who is my neighbor?” He wanted to shrink the definition of “neighbor” to make it more manageable. If his neighbors were only his friends and family, or maybe only people who looked and thought like him, loving his neighbors wouldn’t be too hard.

Instead, Jesus told a story about a righteous Samaritan, radically broadening the word “neighbor” until loving our neighbor becomes an impossible task – unless God helps us to love those who may look, feel, and sound very different from us.

At Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season, we celebrate our ties to friends and family. These ties are natural, life-giving, and important. But if we are followers of Jesus, this special time of year should also cause us to look outside of our own circles for opportunities to extend God’s love to those who are our neighbors under the radical definition Jesus gave. Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program, which seeks to bless incarcerated parents and their families, is just one opportunity to do that. Learn how you can love your neighbor at www.angeltree.org.

New Faith-Based Dormitory in Michigan Prison Seeks to Reduce Recidivism

By Steve Rempe | Posted November 15, 2012

A new faith-based dormitory is scheduled to open at the Muskegon Correctional Facility in Michigan later this month.  The facility will be run by Prison Fellowship staff, and will seek to prepare inmates to return to life outside of prison, fully reconciled to their families and their communities.

Ultimately, the program plans to house 160 prisoners who are within 2-4 years of release.  Between 75 and 100 prisoners have already signed-up for the initial 40 slots.

According to prison warden Sherry Burt, the program seeks to address issues such as anger, substance abuse, and taking responsibility for one’s actions.  She suggests that if the program proves effective in reducing recidivism, it could be expanded to other facilities throughout the state, or even the establishment of an entire faith-based facility.

Studies of similar programs in other states have shown a decrease in reoffending rates for participants.  A report released in February of this year focusing on a Prison Fellowship-run facility in Minnesota found that participation in the program resulted in a 26-40 percent in recidivism.

To learn more about the new program in Michigan, click here.

Lydia’s Miracle

By Prison Fellowship | Posted November 15, 2012

When Lydia Ruano’s first husband was imprisoned for eight years, her three children were sustained by their local church and by Angel Tree®. But when Lydia’s second husband, Luis, was also locked up, she blamed God for putting her through the same trial all over again. She rebelled and turned away from God.

But then a miracle happened!

Luis, who had been an atheist, became a Christian in prison. “He would feed us the Word of God in his letters,” says Lydia. But in her bitterness, she would tear them up and burn them.

All that changed with one phone call from Angel Tree. Luis had registered the children to receive Christmas gifts.

“I was so mad at God that I told the church I didn’t want to go to their Angel Tree party,” says Lydia. “But when I hung up the phone, I could see the hurt all over my children’s faces. They knew what Angel Tree was, and I couldn’t let them down.” When Lydia watched the children open their Angel Tree gifts from Luis, her hard heart broke. “I felt God say, Don’t you know I care for your kids? That I care for you?

When Luis was released from prison, the entire family rededicated their lives to Christ. And this past Christmas, the Ruanos coordinated their church’s Angel Tree outreach.

“Now our family is starting a ministry to prisoners and their families,” Lydia says. “We can’t wait to bring others the hope and joy only God can bring.”

“I’m so grateful that this ministry is in existence and active and it’s a living thing,” she says. “There was nothing else that reached out to us in these ways. Angel Tree is in our core. It’s deep in there. There’s so much gratitude deep in there.”

The One and Only

By Jim Liske | Posted November 9, 2012

On a recent trip I found myself in the ornate office of a state governor. This leader and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things – in fact, he didn’t even believe God existed, but he had invited me to come talk with him about the work of Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM). Based on our record of success elsewhere, he wanted to see how we might help him tackle the high rates of incarceration and recidivism in his state.

He looked across the table at me and asked why inmates who successfully complete Prison Fellowship programs are far less likely to return to prison after they are released, and I only had one answer: Jesus Christ. He is the only One who can remove sin at its root in the human heart. He is the only one can bring real restoration and renewal. He is the only who can bring a person from selfishness to selflessness.

After hearing my explanation, this governor let me know that PFM would be welcome in his state, and he asked his staff to make sure our involvement there is free from obstacles.

God has an amazing way of opening locked doors. He clears the way for His work to move forward – even when all the parties involved doesn’t necessarily acknowledge Him! Prison Fellowship is all about the exciting ways God works: He opens locked hearts through the ministry of churches and volunteers; He breaks the chains of sin that keep inmates in bondage to a criminal lifestyle; He uses the transformation of prisoners to show the world the depth and efficacy of His grace.

Doers of the Word

By Jim Liske | Posted November 5, 2012

The Bible warns us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). Recently I made a new friend in Hawaii who has taken that message to heart.

Roy Yamamoto was a career criminal in Hawaii. When he decided to follow Jesus, he was illiterate. Wanting to grow in his knowledge and trust of the Lord, Roy asked God to teach him to read. Roy picked up the Bible and was able to slowly begin to read and understand. The more he read the Bible, the better he did. As his mind expanded, his heart changed, too.

Roy became a pastor at a local church and focused on ministry to inmates and their families. He established Camp Agape, a camp that serves Angel Tree children in Hawaii and has extended to the mainland. God is growing Roy’s ministry, and he is being used to reach into every prison in Hawaii. He is also serving the 1,700 Hawaiian inmates that are being held in a rented prison in Arizona. Roy has even been able to arrange for family members of inmates in Arizona to visit with the dads and sons who are incarcerated thousands of miles from home.

Even when there’s not an ocean between them, prisoners are often separated from their families by shame, grief, and the sometimes-insurmountable expense of personal visits. Through Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program, you, like my friend Roy, can help connect inmates and their loved ones through the delivery of a Christmas gift and the Gospel. Local churches are urgently needed in critical areas. Go to www.angeltree.org today to give or register your church.

Early intervention

By Jim Liske | Posted October 25, 2012

In prison ministry it’s easy to focus our attention on the most hardened cases. When a lifelong criminal (like the subject of this week’s feature story) turns to Jesus, it’s a real cause for celebration! But it’s also a miracle when God intervenes to turn a young person away from a hopeless lifestyle. I was reminded of this when I received a letter from 16-year-old Josiah.* He says:

For me, the excitement brought on by doing what I was told not to do was a better high than what the drugs, alcohol, and other things did in themselves. … I smoked marijuana, snorted cocaine and heroin, popped pills, smoked tobacco, drank, and broke curfew. I broke into buildings, houses, and stores, and carried two knives, a gun, and brass knuckles. The worst part, I was only 14. I’m 16 now. I’ve been in[carcerated] 2 ½, going on 3 years. I was given many chances to behave, but I refused. … It wasn’t until recently that I finally accepted God’s help. I pray every day, with all my problems, and he gives me peace and helps me solve them. Because of him, I’m very close to getting back to the community. I used to be a delinquent, now I’m a child of our gracious Holy Father.

What a victory! Josiah can now spend his whole adult life sharing the love of his “gracious Holy Father.” Likewise, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program equips churches to intervene in the lives of prisoners’ children – before they head down a road to destruction. Learn how your church can get involved today at www.angeltree.org.

 

*Because “Josiah” is a minor, a pseudonym has been used to protect his privacy.




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