Rev. Aaron Johnson was tough. After all, he had survived being beaten and dragged from a segregated dime-store lunch counter. But it was the plight of prisoners in North Carolina that brought him to tears.
He had worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights movement. He held the position of Secretary of Corrections in his state. All of this prepared him for the moment in 1990, when he pleaded with Prison Fellowship's leadership team to help him reach prisoners with the Gospel.
As told in his autobiography, Man from Macedonia, Rev. Johnson opened his mouth to start his appeal, but tears came instead. Moments later, the entire leadership team was weeping with him over the hopeless state of so many prisoners around the country.
When his voice returned, he said, "I am the man from Macedonia, and I've come to ask for your help."
Echoing the Apostle Paul's vision of a man in Macedonia begging him to come and help, Johnson's request for in-prison evangelism sounded straightforward but enormous. He wanted to reach every prisoner in North Carolina with the Gospel—in just one week.
But could Rev. Johnson and Prison Fellowship® pull off such an audacious plan?
Rev. Aaron Johnson
THE MACEDONIA PROJECT
The first answer to Rev. Johnson's prayer came within two weeks. The Maclellan Foundation awarded Prison Fellowship a $1.5 million grant—half the funds needed to pull off the appropriately named Macedonia Project. With enough money to get started, Prison Fellowship got to work building a strategy.
The next two years involved a flurry of activity: raising money, organizing and training volunteers, recruiting platformed speakers, and enlisting prison chaplains and wardens. North Carolina wardens either chose to put on their own event or relied on Prison Fellowship's ready-to-use format. Either way, Prison Fellowship recruited volunteers and churches to help at each prison.
Aaron Johnson shakes hands with Richard Payne at a Prison Fellowship event in 1991.
When the Macedonia Project was finally underway, a variety of in-prison events were offered. There was a basketball game where prisoners could take on a team of local college players, testimony from guest speakers, and a clear Gospel presentation. Volunteers and church members talked with those who needed follow-up, or prayed with anyone who chose to accept Christ.
In the end, Operation Macedonia included 345 events inside 95 North Carolina prisons, executed with the help of 125 special speakers and 2,700 volunteers. More than 75 percent of the state's prisoners heard the Gospel.
By 1994, Prison Fellowship conducted similar events in Oregon and New Mexico prisons. Soon, they had spread through the country.
Today, Prison Fellowship brings the Gospel to prisoners through Hope Events. Like those early events, each Hope Event™ introduces prisoners to the Good News of Jesus Christ through yard events featuring inspirational speakers, musicians, and other attractions. In 2017, more than 19,800 prisoners attended 107 Hope Events. More than 3,500 of those prisoners made first-time decisions or rededications to follow Christ.
Since 1991, these events have reached more than 700,000 prisoners through musical performances, dynamic preaching, testimonies from former prisoners, and other attractions. And they continue to bring hope around the country.
CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY MONTH
For the last 25 years, Prison Fellowship has offered Hope Events in Illinois in honor of Black History Month. This year, 12 of these Hope Events were held in prisons across Illinois, where about 60 percent of prisoners are African-American. The events featured a message encouraging unity amongst people, prisoners, and races.
Mary Johnson, Illinois Field Director, said, "Our desire was to unite our hearts to [the prisoners' hearts]; to encourage them, to bring hope, truth, and for them to feel remembered and loved by the outside Church."
Rev. Johnson's dream of bringing the Gospel to prisoners continues today through the work of thousands of high-capacity volunteers who work tirelessly to bring the hope of Christ to men and women behind bars.
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