The church behind bars in prisons and jails is alive and well. In a place that most people wouldn’t expect to find humble, faithful servants, there are a surprising number. These are men and women who have hit rock bottom and were saved when they looked up and found God. But they can’t grow and live without community. Lone ranger Christians don’t last long in the hostile environment of incarceration.
Outside ministries provide essential assistance in cultivating and growing disciples in the church behind bars, everything from preaching on Sunday mornings, leading addiction groups like Celebrate Recovery, teaching life skill or spiritual development classes, to Bible studies. The church behind bars benefits from the diversity of religious perspectives brought by the various denominations and independent churches represented. In fact, the demand for professionals and volunteers to go inside exceeds the available pool of individuals.
Responding to the call to minister to those in prison is part of the call that all Christians receive and for which we will be judged by God (Matthew 25:34-40). For those that step forward in faith and enter prison ministry, not only will they have eternal rewards but also blessings from interacting with fellow Christians in the most unlikely places.
For myself I had the privilege of interacting with dozens of people who came to preach, teach, sing, pray, and encourage me and my brothers. They treated me as a human, not a convict; as a fellow Christian, not an outcast; as worthy of redemption, not deserving of condemnation; as a child of God, not the spawn of Satan. They uplifted, edified, encouraged, challenged, and educated me in my Christian walk.
In the overcrowded yet lonely confines of prison I looked forward with great anticipation for the weekly callouts to the Sunday Worship Service, Tuesday night Bible Study, Spiritual Development classes, and Keryx. It wasn’t just something to do in a vast wasteland of monotony. It was an opportunity to chew on spiritual meat, to sharpen iron, and to be renewed in my inner being. All of this was only possible because of the dedication of faithful, Spirit-filled, gifted pastors and laymen; retirees and businessmen. These were missionaries, clergy, and volunteers from all walks of life who have given up much to bring light into darkness, hope to the hopeless, wisdom to the foolish, and the love of God to the least of these.
Saying thank you somehow seems inadequate for these superheroes of the faith. The English language doesn’t contain enough words of admiration to express what these men and women of God mean to me. I can speak of the miracles that have occurred; the lives changed; the tears cried and dried; the power of prayers spoken, and the answers received; and the peace of God imparted, and only scratch the surface of the impact that they have had on my life.
But try to tell them and their humility immediately redirects any praise to God. Certainly, gratitude warms their hearts and expressions of appreciation encourage them to come back again and again. While it was strictly against the rules, I wanted to hug these saints. God used these ministers to prepare me for my own ministry. To place in me the desire to step out of my comfort zone and see the world through Jesus eyes. To speak Truth without cast stones. To be an encourager of the brethren. To write what the Holy Spirit gives me and not one word more.
My heartfelt gratitude, admiration, and loves goes out to these ministers of the Gospel. While we may not cross paths again in this life, I look forward to seeing you again in heaven.