Raised by Wiccan parents, Josiah thought Christians were "crazy" and made "no sense." But what he found in prison challenged everything he believed about them—and their God.
Eighteen months ago, Prison Fellowship volunteer Jeanne Fougerousse met an incarcerated man named Josiah*. Josiah was raised by Wiccan parents ("Wicca" is a contemporary witchcraft movement), who told him to keep his distance from "crazy" Christians because they "make no sense."
So, for most of his life, he didn't know any followers of Jesus—until he went to prison.
Josiah joined the Prison Fellowship Academy® at Mule Creek Correctional Facility in northern California. That's where he met Jeanne and other volunteers, along with the other men participating in the program—many of whom are Christians.
'WE BRING THEM HOPE'
The Academy is an intensive program designed to help people in prison unlearn negative thought patterns and replace them with healthy ones so they can thrive inside and outside of prison. The program guides prisoners to find a new path forward, but it also helps them find something even more important: hope.
"I know that I'm encouraging [the men], just by being there. They need hope. We bring them hope," Jeanne says.
That "hope" is God, and the Academy leverages world-class materials, like Alpha—a course designed to introduce skeptics and new believers to the person of Jesus Christ—to help thousands of incarcerated men and women discover Him for themselves.
As Jeanne will tell you, it works.
'I KNOW GOD'S REAL'
Josiah joined the Academy not because of its faith components but so that he could tackle the factors that brought him to prison and, hopefully, get some time off his sentence. He did the work the course required but participated minimally in group discussion, Jeanne says.
Each week's session opened with prayer and fellowship. Then the men would break into peer-driven discussion groups. Volunteers like Jeanne would sit in on the groups to help facilitate, and by doing so, they learned a lot about each of the participants.
Toward the end of the program, Jeanne noticed that Josiah had begun to open up more about his thoughts and experiences. One day, he said, "You know something? I know God's real. I can feel His presence."
A BOLD STATEMENT
Two weeks later, on the last day of the Alpha course, participants were given an opportunity to open their hearts to Christ. The program director said,
Now, we're not going say we're going to give our hearts to the Lord like you do in church, where you bow your head, close your eyes, and slip your hand up so nobody sees you. We're going to do it bravely, because if you don't pronounce that you're receiving Jesus, and you're bold and lift your hand high, I know what's going to happen when you walk out these doors: you're going to deny Christ, and He's going to deny you. So, you come boldly."
To Jeanne's amazement, Josiah thrust up his hand for all to see!
Jeanne has witnessed Josiah's progress since he came to faith and continued in the Academy. These days, Josiah says, "I have dreams that I didn't have before." Instead of returning to crime, he dreams of getting to know his grandchildren better and taking them camping and fishing.
GOD IS WORKING IN THE PRISONS
"I know the [Academy] works," Jeanne says, after witnessing numerous journeys like Josiah's during her time as a volunteer behind bars.
"God is really working in the prisons," she adds. And she encourages others to serve there. "I'd say that it's biblical to go into the prisons. To do that, [you] don't really have to pray about it. It's already written [in the Bible] that we are to do these things."
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy and safety of the people involved in this story.
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