Prison Fellowship has a long history of going behind bars at Easter. Here's how and why.
Naomi Faltin serves as field team events manager at Prison Fellowship®. In this role, Naomi manages Hope Events, Angel Tree® Parent Days, Prison Fellowship Academy® graduations, departments of corrections staff appreciation events, and any other Prison Fellowship event hosted inside a prison. We sat down with her recently to learn about Easter Hope Events—a high point of the Prison Fellowship year.
Prison Fellowship: Can you summarize what a Hope Event is?
Naomi Faltin: A Prison Fellowship Hope Event™ is a one-day evangelistic event on a prison yard or large community space that presents the hope of the Gospel to men and women behind bars. It provides a respite from the normal rhythm of prison life. Our goal with Hope Events is to create memorable experiences that are marked by the hope of the Gospel. These events sometimes include live music, a speaker, and a testimony. This Easter, Hope Events will include a variety of acts such as a horse training demonstration, a Christian comedian, and all sorts of other things. We are willing to be creative to reach people with the Gospel by any means necessary.
Let’s talk a little bit about the history of Prison Fellowship being in prisons over Easter weekend. How did that start?
Ever since the beginning, our founder Chuck Colson and his wife, Patty, routinely celebrated Easter with men and women behind bars. After Chuck served time, was released from prison, and began Prison Fellowship, he committed to always remember people who spend holidays behind bars. As a Christian, Easter was really important to him, and so was being with incarcerated people. This time of year, both of those priorities combine. For our entire ministry and for many of the friends and donors of the ministry, the Easter season is an extra special time of the year to take the Good News behind prison walls.
What do Easter Hope events look like?
They're like our other Hope Events but with a special emphasis on Jesus' sacrifice in our place and His victory over sin and death. Since April is Second Chance® Month, we get to focus on the second chance that Jesus gave us through the Gospel. I encourage [staff members serving in prison] to at least bring in one person that has been formally incarcerated to share their second chance story and connect that to the story of the Gospel and the hope that we have in Jesus.
Easter Hope Events are a part of our national annual campaigns. They kick off the calendar year, with every field director in the nation trying to host an Easter event. Easter is the first of five annual campaigns, the second being Mother's Day, then Father's Day, then the end of summer, and then Christmas. The spiritual strategy there is that those are some of the five hardest times of the year for men and women behind bars. We're hosting events to encourage and empower, to infuse the prison culture with hope and boost them with reminders that they're not alone—so it makes sense to do that during some of the darkest times of the year for those men and women.
What personally is your favorite thing about Easter Hope events?
I love the idea that, throughout the week of Easter, people in churches all over the world and in prisons all over the world are united in one message. I think it's really special that people can be in all different stages of life, in all different circumstances—but during that time of year, believers everywhere are all focused on the message of the Resurrection and united in that same hope.
Easter Hope Events seem to be particularly powerful. Why do you think that is?
I think it's because the Gospel is so powerful, and it never gets old. It's always relevant in every situation, and it truly changes and transforms people's lives. So I think every Hope Event is powerful. But I think when we remember that Jesus is risen, and He's alive, and that our story is not over yet, it can add an extra powerful element.
Tell me about the Easter Hope Events coming up.
As of today, there are 53 Easter Hope events planned in 21 states, many of which will be in women's prisons. I'm particularly really excited about our first ever Hope Event in New England, which is happening in Maine this year, and our first ever Hope Event in North Carolina. One of the first Hope Events in Missouri is happening this Easter, as is one of the first Hope Events in Mississippi. It's also the first back in prison since the pandemic in California. So lots of firsts! Lots of patience is paying off. Like Vanessa Franklin [Prison Fellowship’s national director of field operations] says, "It's harvest time!" We've been waiting and praying and working the ground in a lot of these states that aren't as familiar with Prison Fellowship. We're expecting a big harvest at Easter, to get to celebrate from coast to coast.
What about prisons that aren't yet open to events?
This year, some of our Hope Events will be livestreamed through Zoom in areas that, due to COVID-19, we are restricted from. The Prison Fellowship team will set up at a local church or another venue and host the program as normal. Then on the inside, a chaplain will help facilitate the screen and the sound, and people can gather and see in real time.
Just being able to look at the people we are speaking to makes a world of difference—it makes it feel so much more personal [than a prerecorded event]—for them and for us. It also allows prayer requests to happen in real time and back-and-forth interaction. We are able to ask questions and see hands raised from the other side of the screen.
Is there anything else you feel like is important for people to know about Easter Hope Events?
Hope Events are, when it comes down to it, just a couple hours in a prison for one day, a fun program that encourages and inspires and reminds people of the Gospel. But what I want people to know is that they have a lasting impact. I hear reports from field directors that one memorable experience through a Hope Event—one encounter with Christ—can spark something among people personally, in the prison culture, and in the morale of the staff, that really carries on months and years down the line. I want people to know that Hope Events are worth it.
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