How the Church Can Welcome Prisoners Home
In January 2020, I was researching online about prison reform and resources to help my elderly dad, who had been in prison for nearly 24 years. I came across Prison Fellowship® and read about the Justice Ambassador program, which equips volunteers to advocate for cultural change. As someone who is personally affected by incarceration, and as a follower of Christ, I was thrilled to see that Prison Fellowship is mobilizing the Church to respond to these issues in a biblical way.
It sounded like something I wanted to be a part of, so I applied to become a Justice Ambassador.
AN ANSWER TO PRAYER
A Prison Fellowship Justice Ambassador specialist reached out to answer any questions and help me get started. As Justice Ambassadors, we support legislative reforms that advance proportional punishment, constructive prison culture, and second chances. At the time, the pandemic limited our in-person lobbying opportunities, so I wrote emails to my representatives and promoted different bills via social media. I also became a Restoration Partner of Prison Fellowship and attended prayer calls.
All the while, these issues of incarceration hit close to home for me. My dad’s dementia progressed until my request for his medical parole was finally granted in July 2021. After I had waited more than 25 years to be reunited with him, the moment was bittersweet: When he got out, he didn’t remember who I was. I’m still praying for his healing and believe God can do anything.
It was such an answer to prayer to finally have my dad home, but it was a difficult transition. From the very beginning, my family needed support and resources.
EMBRACING A FAMILY
One of the most important things for anybody reentering society after prison is to find community—a community where you’re not ashamed, you’re embraced, and you’re loved. That’s what a family needs, too, when their loved one returns home.
Several months after my dad came home, he, my mom and I visited National Community Church (NCC) in Washington, D.C. on a Sunday morning in March 2022. That first day, I shared my dad’s story with one of the pastors, and he welcomed my dad with open arms. We have felt so welcomed, and that has made all the difference with our reentry journey.
Several weeks later, NCC celebrated the first Sunday in April as Second Chance® Sunday. This event is part of Second Chance Month®, a nationwide effort led by Prison Fellowship® to raise awareness and unlock the potential of people with a criminal record. Every year, churches like NCC partner with Prison Fellowship to promote opportunities for second chances through teaching, study, and prayer as a congregation. Sitting in those services during Second Chance Month, I felt seen, heard and loved. It was the first time I had heard a sermon and a call to loving action on the issues we had been facing.
This church family is where I belong—a community that shares the same heartbeat that I have for “the least of these” (Matthew 25), our neighbors who are in prison and their families. I saw NCC had a whole ministry devoted towards serving individuals in prison and reentering the community as well as their families. It’s a ministry where I believed God wanted me to serve.
I believe Second Chance Month is an incredible opportunity for the Church to minister to justice involved people and their families. It's perfect that we celebrate Second Chance Month around Easter time. We can remember the ultimate second chance we can all have in Jesus, through His sacrifice and resurrection for us. As we have received a second chance, I believe we are to extend a second chance to others. I have seen that when the Church supports second chances, it makes a big difference in the community.
People do change, and we’ve seen examples of that over and over. And everyone who is justice impacted has a place in God’s family. Churches have such a special opportunity to meet people where they are, just like my church did for us. No shame, just open arms. That support made all the difference for us, and it could make all the difference for so many others.
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