Matt. 25: 31 – 46 & Matt. 28:19 – 20. & Heb. 13:3
These scriptures and others well sum up the reason for A Christian Jail & Prison Ministry. Throughout the Bible are examples, descriptions, and commandments about prisons, prisoners, bondage, captivity and slavery. The Bible mentions prisoners, prisons or imprisonment more than 130 times. Though a jail or prison ministry is not a calling for everyone, it is a calling none the less, and a very important and essential one at that.
My wife, Debbie, and I have been in, or associated with, jail and prison ministry for over 13 years. We’ve seen lives changed and people saved, never to return to incarceration again. It has been one of the most rewarding ministries we’ve ever experienced. I, myself, have worked as a deputy jailer which has given me some valuable insight into jail and prison life.
Statistics from several years ago can be frightening; and they’re much more prevalent today. The statistics I saw said that 1 in every 32 American adults is in jail, prison, or on parole. 46% of inmates were incarcerated for an offense of violence. 64% of prison inmates are of a racial or ethnic minority. Only 28% of jail inmates are there on their first offense. In addition, according to Crossroads Prison Ministries, 2.2 million people (other statistics say 2.3 million) are imprisoned in the United States. Of those 2.2 million, 40% of prisoners have little experience studying the Bible; 95% of prisoners eventually will be released. A Barna research study indicates that 75% of released inmates will commit another crime and be returned to custody. However, only 14% of inmates involved in a regular, organized study of the Bible will return to prison. Some of these statistics are eye-openers to say the least.
So, why would anyone want to minister in a jail or prison? All the inmates mentioned above were created by God, to have a relationship with God. Jesus Christ was crucified to redeem them all. Therefore, we are commissioned by God’s Word to serve them by bringing them the gospel and giving them the opportunity to worship. So, how do you affect the lives of 2.2 million incarcerated people? One inmate at a time.
As Christians, we must see people where the world sees statistics. To do otherwise is to reduce inmates to something less than beings created in the image of God.
A jail or prison ministry has the potential to change lives, restore families, and make communities safer. You see, a jail or prison ministry is a field ripe for the harvest. Many inmates have hit bottom, ruined their families, and wrecked their lives. According to an article in “By Grace Today” magazine, John 8:36 tells us that only those who have the Son are “free indeed.” So, if the Lord uses prison to get someone’s attention and introduce them to the gospel, then so be it. If a person’s soul is set free from the power of sin and death, it doesn’t matter if their body remains behind bars. This powerful truth is perhaps what motivated Paul to say, “Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; But the word of God is not bound (or imprisoned). (2 Timothy 2:9).
Just like a missionary to foreign lands, the Christian jail or prison volunteer or Chaplain is entering a foreign land, a land with different customs, cultures, and government. We need to understand that. It may not be easy in many cases, but it’s still a calling. We have no absolute constitutional right to minister in correctional facilities; we are permitted to be there, guests of the administration, subject to the rules of the facility. By the same token, while inmates have a constitutional right to practice their religion, there is no obligation for correctional facilities to permit volunteers into the facilities. You have no absolute right to be there. It’s only by God’s grace, many times, that we are permitted.
Remember the verse in 1 Cor. 3:6 which said, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase”? In a jail or prison ministry, we can plant the seed of the Word of God into their hearts and minds, or we can water those seeds where someone else has planted, but in the end, it’s God who gives the increase of our labor. But, without planting and watering, there would be no increase.
Remember the parable of the sower and the seed in Matthew 13? A sower sowed some seed. Some fell by the wayside as it surely will be in a jail or prison. Some seed fell on stony places and among thorns, as it will surely be in jail or prison, where some inmates will hear and believe for a period, but the word won’t be planted deep in the heart, or, someone will come along and cause them to deny the word. But then some seeds sown will fall on good ground, take root, and spring up into a productive life in Jesus Christ. That’s what I’m talking about.
The Chaplaincy Training Library form the Chaplaincy Training Institute put it like this: “Christian Chaplains are an extension of Christ’s ministry to all people. There is a common misconception that Chaplains have left the real ministry to do social ministry. This could not be farther from the truth. Jesus did make a habit of regular synagogue attendance, and he often taught there (Luke 4: 16-24). However, most of His ministry was very much outside the walls of the institutional “church.” He taught on the seashore, he taught on mountaintops, he taught over dinner tables, and he taught along the roads as He walked. Additionally, He did not limit His ministry to devout Jews, but befriended sinners and tax collectors, healed Romans and Samaritans. He preached to crowds of mixed Jewish and Gentile ancestry.” Boy, that sure goes against the grain of some church members today!
Here is what Frank Mastrolonardo, Senior Chaplain, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has to say, “Jails are full of people with lots of time and little distraction. They come to Bible study, church services, or Fundamentals of the Faith classes curious and looking for answers. They are often desperate and broken, and the Lord has used their circumstances to prepare them to receive the gospel. It seems like every week someone behind bars asks me, “What must I do to be saved?” Answering that question is the biggest joy of my life.”
Need I say more?
Some suggested reading:
“Thinking About Jail and Prison ministry; A Guide For The Lay Volunteer” by Larry Nielsen
“I’m Not Coming Back!” John Sala Story. Published by International Prison Ministry.
Publications by Gregory Von Tobel from prisonersforchrist.org/store
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