With the help of so many volunteers and partners around the country, Prison Fellowship spent 2014 bringing the Gospel to prisoners, helping former prisoners successfully return to their communities, and supporting families affected by crime and incarceration. This past year, thousands of men and women behind bars surrendered their hearts to Christ, and 50 new “bridge churches” began walking alongside newly released men and women. We’ve seen God work through Prison Fellowship and our partners to transform lives and equip Christian leaders to change the culture of prisons and communities.
Here are just a few of the incredible ways God propelled prison ministry, justice advocacy, and Christian leadership forward last year:
Prison Fellowship’s advocacy team orchestrated support for the Smarter Sentencing Act, which makes mandatory sentences more proportional for drug charges and gives judges greater discretion in sentencing. By reducing the number of individuals in federal prisons who do not pose a threat to public safety, the Smarter Sentencing Act can direct money to programs that reduce crime. The advocacy team lobbied Senate Judiciary Committee members, spearheaded a letter of support for the legislation from conservative organizations and a wide array of faith groups, and Craig DeRoche, vice-president of advocacy, met directly with senators to share why the faith community supports the initiative. Justice advocates responded to calls-to-action and sent a total of 679 emails to Congress. Because of these efforts, the bill passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee in January.
Hundreds of men behind bars accepted the Lord or recommitted their lives to Him at Prison Fellowship’s Easter events this year. At Valley State Prison in California on Holy Saturday, prisoner-participants in Prison Fellowship’s seminary level program were able to minister to their fellow prisoners as they helped them pray to accept God’s gift of grace. And at three Easter events at Illinois prisons, Prison Fellowship’s President and CEO Jim Liske shared the hope of the Resurrection and men shot to their feet to receive the invitation of Christ. Jim explained that they no longer need to participate in gangs that seal their memberships with blood because Christ’s blood frees us from sin. The blood of Jesus places us in God’s family. And because these men heard and believed this message, hundreds of families now have a restored family member who will someday return home as a new creation in Christ.
June, July, and August
Over the summer, more than 5,000 children with a mom or dad in prison had the opportunity to attend summer camp. Thanks to nearly 100 Christian camps and 60 churches, Angel Tree kids like 8-year-old Caysha enjoyed time away from the worries of their everyday lives, learned more about God’s love, and built bonds with children in similar circumstances as themselves. In August, Prison Fellowship held its eighth annual Angel Tree Football Clinic at Stanford. About 320 boys with a parent in prison had the chance to learn the game of football from Christian former college and professional football players at Stanford University’s first-class facility. This one-day camp was about more than just football; the boys learned character development, teamwork, and leadership skills.
With seminary programs in 24 prisons, Prison Fellowship is training men and women behind bars to become Christian leaders in their prisons and upon their release. In October, 16 prisoners at E.C. Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon, Michigan, donned caps and gowns for the prison’s first graduation ceremony of Prison Fellowship’s seminary program. Each graduate was able to invite four people from their visitor list to attend the ceremony. Prison Fellowship and prison staff spoke about the dedication these 16 men showed over the past three-and-a-half years as they worked through this program. As the students received their certificates in Christian leadership studies, there were shouts of joy from the students and guests. These men are already making a difference. They are leading Bible studies in their units and developing community service projects both behind the walls and reaching out into the community.
This Christmas, Angel Tree churches served over 300,000 children of prisoners–bringing them gifts and a reminder of their mom or dad’s love. Volunteers shared God’s love with these families, too, encouraging them to put their hope in Christ who is always there for them. For some Angel Tree children, this Christmas marked a new beginning–like Taylor who heard from her mom for the first time 11 years. Just like it has for more than 30 years, Angel Tree is continuing to connect hurting children with their moms and dads in prison.
Let’s deliver more hope to prisoners, former prisoners, and their families in 2015! To see how you can join us in restoring lives this year, visit www.prisonfellowship.org.