Prison Fellowship had the joy of participating in The Colson Center’s annual Wilberforce Weekend conference on April 8-9 in Washington, D.C. We joined hundreds in honoring Chuck Colson as the recipient of the 2016 Wilberforce Award. We also celebrated the 40th anniversary of Prison Fellowship, founded by Chuck, and the 25th anniversary of BreakPoint, Chuck’s radio broadcast created to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending the Christian worldview.
At the Prison Fellowship table, we welcomed some special ministry friends, including Joseph “Papa Joe” Bradford who, along with his wife Denise, founded Elijah’s Heart in the Nashville area. The Bradfords live out a mission to “show love to underprivileged children and their families, to assist them with practical needs, and to raise awareness about their desperate situations.”
We also got to spend time with Leigh Littrell, founder and president of Refuge of Grace, a jail ministry and residential program that helps women get on their feet through biblical counseling, life-skills training, reconciliation of family relationships, and spiritual nourishment.
And we were visited by Edwin Wolff, whose time in prison was redeemed by Jesus. Ed continues to use his second chance at life to live for Christ and bring others into relationship with Him.
Wilberforce Weekend culminated in a dinner honoring Chuck as the 2016 William Wilberforce awardee. Since 1988, the Wilberforce Award has been given to “a hero living out his or her Christian faith with bold and thoughtful action, and thereby honoring the unparalleled example set by William Wilberforce.”
During the dinner, many friends paid tribute to Chuck Colson. Prison Fellowship’s acting president and CEO, Tim Robison, shared how Chuck founded Prison Fellowship after spending seven months in prison himself. Chuck never forgot those he left behind. “Chuck had a deep love and passion for the prisoner,” said Tim. “Although he engaged with princes and presidents, he was most at home, he was most satisfied, when he was ministering behind bars.”
Chuck believed that, rather than being remembered for awards, it was the people he helped come to Christ and who went on to minister to others in prison who would represent the sum total of his life. “I call these the ‘living monuments’ of my life,” Chuck said. “The great satisfaction I have is pouring my life into other people and now seeing them pick up the cause and carry on God’s work in the neediest of places.”
“Chuck poured himself out for his Savior,” Tim told the audience at Wilberforce Weekend. “And because of Chuck doing that, some of you in this room are living monuments. Many of you, and thousands across the country, are pouring yourselves out to serve your Savior, all as a result of Chuck’s faithfulness.”
Chuck’s children, Wendell, Chris, and Emily Colson, accepted the award on their father’s behalf. Emily shared a story of her father taking all three of his adult children to a prison in Peru years ago, so they could see how far the ministry had reached. “It was glorious,” Emily remembers. “The joy in that prison when the men praised God was unlike anything I have ever experienced.”
Chuck’s children could see why their dad said he loved to preach in prison more than any other place in the world. “God accomplished great things through (my father),” said Emily. “He lived—he lives—in a strong steady pulse of life in Christ.”
As the family stood to accept the Wilberforce Award, Emily asked others, including staff from Prison Fellowship and The Colson Center, board members from both ministries, and Colson Fellows, to stand with them. When she then asked “volunteers, friends, co-laborers in Christ, those who will stand on the truth of Christ” to rise, not a person remained seated.
“It would honor our dad greatly to share the recognition of this award with each and every one of you,” Emily said. “Those who persevere for the sake of the Gospel, those who are obedient to the call of Christ, those who know that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine—you are Chuck Colson’s legacy.”