He first went to prison to visit his incarcerated wife. Today, they both serve behind bars.
Since 2009, Jeff Fay and his wife Audrey have been volunteering as teachers inside men's prisons with The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI), a World Impact program facilitated by Prison Fellowship® behind bars. TUMI is an intensive biblical studies course that teaches and equips prisoners to become Christian leaders in prisons and in the urban communities to which many of them will return. Launched behind bars in 2007, TUMI currently operates in 42 prisons in 10 states, with more than 1,330 men and women currently participating. Graduates of the program have been recognized as leaders in their correctional institutions and have made positive transitions back into their communities as spouses, parents, employees, and urban missionaries.
We talked to Jeff about his volunteer experience, what someone who's new to prison ministry should know, and what fuels his passion for serving prisoners.
Prison Fellowship: Why did you start volunteering in prison?
JEFF: My wife, Audrey, was incarcerated, and during that time of incarceration, I would travel to visit her every Sunday. During those visits, the interesting thing was, God started pressing on my heart, and I started getting to know everyone that visited. It really kind of struck me about the love that God has for us, and as I drove back and forth, God really pressed me on second chances and those who have been shunned by the world.
Someone at the church I was going to said, "I know your circumstances and what's going on. Would you like to volunteer inside prison?" I said, "You know what, I would." That was in 2005. I went to the training and started volunteering with Prison Fellowship. We started volunteering with TUMI in 2009.
What has surprised you most about prison ministry
JEFF: The one thing God has shown me the most is the transformation that happens. To see a guy come to a church service for the very first time and then getting excited about getting into TUMI—just watching these guys transform over time. Their mentality changes; the things they once thought were acceptable are no longer acceptable. Just to see that transformation that God promises through His Word. It never ceases to encourage my wife and me.
Jeff and Audrey Fay
Why have you continued volunteering behind bars?
JEFF: It's a calling. For Audrey and me, there was a point where we thought we were done. We were really frustrated, and we had to regroup. At the end of that, God spoke to Audrey and me that it wasn't about the masses—it was about reaching just one individual. We realized that it's all about the one. Now when we start to feel like we're getting burned out, we remember that it's about the one. Once we understood that, it changed everything for us.
Audrey and I will probably never stop being a part of TUMI because of the fruit that God produces through it.
How do you feel after serving in prison?
JEFF: There are times we really don't want to go. It's maybe bad weather or whatever, but you go because you made the commitment. And those are the times that you walk out more blessed and re-energized than before you went in. It could be a conversation or something that was said in class, and you're like, OK, Lord, I know why I was here tonight.
The men say that they're blessed that we show up, and we say we're blessed because they show up. They bless us, and we bless them. I don't think there's ever been a time in the 10 years that we've done this where I have not thanked the Lord for the opportunity to serve Him this way.
God will bless you as you walk in the ministry. God abundantly blesses us as we serve.
What would you tell those who are interested in volunteering with Prison Fellowship, particularly those who are on the fence about getting involved?
JEFF:Give it one shot. Come one time. When you go in there, and you can actually be a part of what God's doing there, you'll know if God is calling you to be a part of it. Come and see.
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