I couldn't help but notice I was the only woman in the place. The church attendees were all male residents of one of Colorado's several state correctional facilities—all of whom were nearing the end of their prison terms. Chaplain Tony Copeland has served the men of Rifle Correctional Facility for years and knows them well. I was the honored guest with two other Prison Fellowship volunteers, serving alongside them that weekend to teach Connection Classes on developing stronger parenting skills.
Led by trained volunteers, Prison Fellowship® Connection Classes offer prisoners the opportunity to regularly study the Bible, build community, and develop transformative life skills. That weekend, I saw how God was using Prison Fellowship's programs to do just that in a prisoner named Ian.
Ian had grown up going to church but never taken it very seriously.
“Oh, I knew the Bible stories and could even quote Scripture to you, but it never really went any deeper than that with me,” he said. Ian's Missouri hometown is the Assemblies of God headquarters. Growing up, it seemed like nearly everyone in the town was associated with them one way or another. But Ian “faked his way” through his high school years, and “shook the dust from his feet” when he got away from his hometown.
Now, years later, after having served time for “a crime [he] still can't believe [he] really committed,” God had finally gotten his attention. Through the work of a good chaplain and programs offered by Prison Fellowship®, he was finally beginning to get that it wasn't about “acting the part” but being a changed heart through the power of Jesus. He truly regretted all the wrong he had done.
And then, he said something I've not heard that often before from prisoners: “You know, God has a call on my life, and I want Him to fulfill it.”
He didn't say “I feel like I have a call on my life” or “I hope I have a call on my life,” but very succinctly and with great conviction, “God has a call on my life.” No doubt about it.
A MAN ON A GOD-ORDAINED MISSION
I watched Ian as he worshipped that night and wrote copious notes throughout the sermon, underlining certain Scriptures and highlighting others. He certainly appeared to be a man on a mission—one that went far beyond staying within the prison walls! I had a sneaking suspicion that Ian had decided not to make prison his permanent address, and that this would be his last brush with the law.
After the service, Ian asked for prayer, stating that he looked forward to his adventure ahead with God. He plans to attend Bible college when he paroles to his mother's house in Missouri.
“You know, so few want to come to prison to share the Good News,” Ian said, “but I feel like God is leading me back to help others find Him behind these walls.”
I believe him, and I believe that God would indeed use him in the lives of other prisoners.
NOT IN VAIN
When I drove back to Denver the next day, I couldn't help but think about Ian and the journey God has him on. It certainly wouldn't be the first time someone was knocked off his feet to find the Savior. And it certainly wouldn't be the first time God used a prisoner to reach others.
Once again, I am reminded of the fact that we never know who will be sitting in our Bible studies and classes, only to hear and receive the calling God has for them. Approximately 365,000 prisoners are reached every year through Prison Fellowship. Prisoners who participate in education and vocational training classes like ours have a 43-percent lower recidivism rate.
Our hours spent behind these prison walls are not in vain!
ABOUT MARY ELLEN
Mary Ellen Armbruster is the Colorado and Wyoming field director for Prison Fellowship.