Prisons can be places of darkness, where despair festers and grows. Hopelessness spreads as prisoners spend unproductive years behind bars, and many return to society only to fall right back into their old, detrimental lifestyle. Void of self-worth, abandoned by their families, and trapped by their pasts, some prisoners feel they have nothing to live for anymore.
If we want prisons to instead become places of rehabilitation that release restored people back into the community, then something – or someone – must break through the darkness to turn brokenness into hopefulness. This is why Prison Fellowship has been taking the Good News of God’s redeeming love into prisons since 1976.
The message of our Savior’s power is just as applicable within the prison walls as it is in our communities. Everyone needs the grace of God in our lives, whether we know it or not. As prisoners hear that they can start over – forgiven by God – hope flourishes and joy spreads through the prison. The chance of a new life restores their hearts and establishes their purpose in Christ; it gives them something to live for.
Operation Starting Line
On Easter of 2000, Prison Fellowship began a program specifically focused on bringing the light of the Gospel into prisons across the country through evangelism events. This program, called Operation Starting Line, is a collaborate network of national, state, and regional Christian ministries that sponsors in-prison events to share with prisoners the simple, life-changing message that Jesus came to save them.
Operation Starting Line has reached more than 700,000 prisoners in more than 32 states through events featuring entertaining performers, dynamic preachers, ex-prisoners sharing their stories, family-connection experiences, and discipleship and prayer workshops.
Bringing Hope to Illinois
This past February, Prison Fellowship and a few of its Operation Starting Line partners brought a series of 13 evangelism events to prisons throughout the state of Illinois.
Gideon Crew, a hip-hop worship group; Sonnie Day, a Gospel recording artist; and Rev. Art Hallett, a praise and worship leader, provided music and the Gospel message for more than 1,500 prisoners over the course of the tour. About 150 prisoners accepted Jesus as their Savior for the first time during this event series, and nearly 600 prisoners raised their hands to rededicate their lives to Christ.
Operation Starting Line held two events at Logan Correctional Center, a medium- and maximum-security prison housing over 2,000 female inmates. At the morning session, about 30 women attended the performance, and nine prayed to receive Christ into their lives.
The chaplain told the Operation Starting Line team that the event was the best she had ever seen in a prison, and she asked the prisoners to invite others to come to the gym for the afternoon event.
About 80 women attended the next session. While Sonnie Day was singing a melody of old hymns, many of the prisoners began weeping and bringing their worries before the Lord.
Mary Johnson, Prison Fellowship field director for Illinois, began moving around the room, praying with the prisoners and encouraging them to worship God. Prisoners from the Church inside also began praying with other prisoners, and about 25 women accepted Christ that afternoon.
These women, and many other prisoners who heard the Good News of Christ because of this Operation Starting Line tour, now know that they are unconditionally loved and valued by their Father above.
How You Can Get Involved
The reach of Operation Starting Line depends on the participation of dedicated volunteers who want to share the hope of eternity with prisoners. Together, we work to scatter the seeds of God’s Word — a critical first step on the road to new life for countless prisoners in search of a new beginning.
Volunteers who feel called to help with Operation Starting Line events in their region will work with local Prison Fellowship staff to train and become acquainted with prison ministry. Volunteer duties range from handing out ministry booklets to assisting with event set-up and tear-down, and of course, simply talking and praying with prisoners about the Gospel message they hear presented at the event.
With your care, prisoners can experience the love of God, which can lead to healing and wholeness for themselves and their families.
For more information on getting involved in Operation Starting Line, please visit the program webpage.