In celebration of Prison Fellowship’s 40 years of ministering to prisoners and their families, we will be taking a look back at the early days of the ministry and remembering the people and the stories that have helped to make Prison Fellowship the nation’s largest prison outreach. In the following reflection, Mark Hubbell, Prison Fellowship’s area director for the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, shares his memories of the beginning years of the ministry and working with Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson.
Prior to coming on staff at Prison Fellowship, I served as a volunteer beginning in 1977 after reading Chuck Colson’s first book, Born Again. How could I not get involved?
In his book, Chuck spoke of the spiritual poverty he witnessed in prison—men being warehoused, lacking purpose, and without hope. As a new believer who had just experienced the miracle of the new birth, I wanted to be a part of an effort to bring new new life to society’s outcasts.
In the ensuing years, Chuck continued to write and speak, sharing a vision of a churches across the nation working with Prison Fellowship entering jails and prisons, introducing prisoners to Jesus Christ, and then actively discipling them.
Chuck’s vision quickly became a reality.
Prison Fellowship began putting on in-prison seminars in prisons across the nation facilitated by volunteers from local churches. Weekly Bible studies were soon added, along with a wide variety of classes on Christian living, discipleship, marriage, and other topics. Later, courses on preparing for release and reentry have become a part of the ministry’s offerings.
In the community, the Angel Tree program connects prisoners’ spouses and children with local church congregations, providing Christmas gifts on behalf of their incarcerated family member and sharing hope and encouragement.
Today, four years after Chuck’s passing, the ministry of Prison Fellowship continues to grow and strengthen.
I believe this is because the vision that God gave to Chuck was so enduring.
God has always emphasized the importance of caring for the outcast, the widow, and the orphan. Who is more of an outcast than a prisoner? Isn’t the spouse of a prisoner, who must carry on without her imprisoned mate, effectively a widow? And the children of prisoners, who grow up without a parent, similar to orphans?
The people Prison Fellowship serves are close to the heart of God.
And the means of serving them is precisely what God prescribed: the Church. As the Apostle Paul reminded us in his second letter to the Corinthians, “all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”
God has called His Church to the ministry of reconciliation. We are His ambassadors.
The vision given to Chuck Colson forty years ago challenges the Church to live up to its calling. We must embrace God’s compassion for the broken men, women, and children around us and introduce them to Christ. We must walk with them and help them grow into His likeness.
The vision given to Chuck gives the Church an opportunity to live out the Gospel in a tangible way. And as the Church responds, God is glorified.