A version of the following article appeared in the July issue of Pentecostal Evangel, an Assemblies of God publication.
Jim Liske is president and CEO of Prison Fellowship Ministries, which works in prison ministry, advocacy, and Christian leadership. Since assuming his position in 2011, he has overseen Prison Fellowship’s efforts to build the Church inside America’s prison walls, advocate for principles of restorative criminal justice at the state and national levels, and empower churches to influence the culture. Liske recently shared his ministry priorities with Scott Harrup, Pentecostal Evangel managing editor.
evangel: What led to your ministry with Prison Fellowship?
JIM LISKE: I was a pastor for 28 years at various churches in Canada and the U.S. Twenty years ago, if you had told me I would be doing ministry with prisoners and their families, I wouldn’t have believed you. But through circumstances in my family and in our church in western Michigan, God showed me we are all prisoners of our own kinds of sin. We are all recovering from something and re-entering from somewhere.
Our church started a powerful parachurch ministry, helping those returning to society from prison and working with the Michigan Department of Corrections. God called my wife, Cathy, and me to Prison Fellowship in 2011.
evangel: Why is ministering to prisoners and their families integral to the Gospel?
LISKE: When you read the Bible through the lens of ministering to prisoners and their families, stories start to jump off the page. Joseph was wrongly imprisoned for an alleged sexual offense. Moses was a murderer. Paul started out as a notorious persecutor of the Early Church. This is the very heart of the Gospel, God taking men and women from the depths of sin and redeeming and restoring them to their full potential. In Matthew 25:36, Jesus says that when we visit the prisoner, we are visiting Him.
evangel: How does Angel Tree contribute to Prison Fellowship’s mission?
LISKE: Incarceration has a profound impact on prisoners’ families and their communities. There are about 2.3 million prisoners in the United States—about half of them parents. The Pew Center estimates they have 2.7 million children under the age of 18. That’s one in 28, or a child in every U.S. classroom.
These children are some of the most at-risk in society, and there’s a danger they will follow their parents into prison.
I know of one young boy who committed his first crime because he thought if he were arrested, he could be with his dad. That breaks my heart.
Angel Tree allows prisoners to deliver a Christmas gift and message of love to their children through church volunteers; helps break this intergenerational curse of crime and incarceration by fostering family reconciliation; connects families with churches that can embrace and support them through their trials; and expresses the Gospel in word and deed.
evangel: Could you share a recent example of Angel Tree’s positive impact on a family?
LISKE: In that family where the young boy committed a crime to be with his father in prison, a daughter named Christina had a lot of hurt in her young life. When her mother died, her father couldn’t be there for her. But every year, he sent her a gift through Angel Tree.
Christina has become a remarkable young woman. She has a master’s degree, and is a successful accountant. She didn’t become a statistic. Though her father is still behind bars, they have a strong relationship, full of forgiveness and love for each other as they share their faith in the Lord.
evangel: What opportunities do you anticipate in Prison Fellowship’s future?
LISKE: This past year, Prison Fellowship joined forces with Youth for Christ’s Juvenile Justice Ministry to deliver Christmas gifts to prisoners’ children who are incarcerated themselves. Partnering with organizations and churches that share our passion for the least and the lost, we can work together to “make the invisible Kingdom visible.”