How Prison Ministry Is Changing Lives in Alaska.
In late 2018, a severe earthquake shattered roads and sent buildings swaying in south-central Alaska. Geologists soon traced its epicenter to an area north of Anchorage, right next to Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC).
"It was basically in the parking lot," says Scott Thompson, the prison's chaplain. "It caused a bit of a hullaballoo."
But Scott, who has served the prison's 1,400 residents since 2013, has also witnessed seismic shifts of a more positive kind.
TRANSFORMED BY GOD'S WORD
In late 2014, Scott worked with Prison Fellowship to establish The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) at GCCC. TUMI is a voluntary, intensive biblical studies course offered by Prison Fellowship in conjunction with World Impact. It 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 more than 40 prisons, offering more than 1,000 men and women a chance to be transformed—and to transform their facilities—as they study God's Word.
The first TUMI class at GCCC started with 25 students. Of those, 17 made it to graduation in late 2018, and a second class is now underway.
The students have become well-known for their biblical knowledge, and it is common for other prisoners to seek them out for help with their own questions on spiritual matters.
Through the "Ambassador Program," TUMI graduates from GCCC have been moved into other institutions within the state to help start faith-based programing in those locations as well. In this way TUMI is having an impact on the incarcerated population through the state of Alaska.
Samuel* was a gang leader before he came to faith in Christ during a chapel service in prison, and then he joined the second TUMI class at GCCC. Samuel's cellmate challenged him about his faith, questioning the very existence of God. Rather than becoming defensive or antagonistic, Samuel, equipped by his participation in the TUMI class, felt ready to address the issues raised. After hours of conversation, Samuel ultimately led his cellmate to Christ.
AN UNEXPECTED MINISTRY
Scott has not always lived in Alaska, nor did he plan on becoming a prison chaplain. He has been a missionary to Africa and has pastored churches in the Pacific Northwest. He and his wife Kelly moved the Frontier State in 2010, intending to help plant churches. But the Christian community they would help foster was in a different place than they ever expected.
In 2012, Scott, who says he has always been "bivocational," retired from his job but wanted a meaningful way to fill his daytime hours. Hoping to find a place to volunteer, he attended a state-run orientation on ministering within the Alaska Department of Corrections. Several weeks later, he was invited to help launch prison ministry at the then-brand-new Goose Creek facility.
By the end of his first week there as a volunteer, he found himself the prison's full-time chaplain. "One thing led to another pretty quickly," he laughs.
Scott has relished the opportunity to see men in prison be restored and renewed through a relationship with God. All too often, people behind bars are forgotten, only making the news for actions that send harmful shockwaves through the community. But through the chapel program at Goose Creek, and through programs like TUMI, men get the opportunity to pursue positive change in their own lives, which ripple out and bring benefits to others in their prison community and after they are released.
So what's next for the ministry at Goose Creek? With the help of many volunteers from nearby Anchorage, Scott plans to continue with TUMI, and, hopefully, see the addition of a Prison Fellowship Academy®—the first in Alaska—in the near future.
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