How did it feel for a former convicted fellow to go back to prison?
Our small church not only has a nursing home ministry, but also a prison ministry, and we based our nursing home ministry on James 1:27 where for many years I just read over that. It was only when one of our elderly church members had to enter into a nursing home facility that it occurred to me that these are some of the orphans and the widows mentioned in the Bible by James where he wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” These shut-ins cannot go to church, so we bring the church to them! I once asked them, “How many of you are orphans and widows,” and nearly all of the hands shot up! Almost all of them were widows, widowers, and of course at that age, orphans, but God has not forsaken His own, even when they are old. God says that “even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4), and God often uses others to do that “carrying.” I try to encourage the elderly there that “They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green” (Psalm 92:15), and especially since they have eternal life. I can give them Jesus’ own promise that “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this” (John 11:25-b26)? Of course, most of them do believe, but prisoners are also shut-ins. In fact, they are “locked ins,” and some for life! It doesn’t matter…many of them are being set free in prison.
Keys to the Kingdom
I had no idea when I began this prison ministry years ago that, as a former convicted felon (in the mid 1970’s), I would be going back to prison, but not for committing a crime, but to be used by God to set men free. I believe it takes a man of God with the Word of God and the Spirit of God to create the children of God for the glory of God. In other words, it’s all about God and not about us! I never thought that Jesus’ giving the keys of the kingdom to the church would be a key that would fit a prison door. No one would have expected a former felon to be allowed to re-enter the prison population, but not as an inmate, but as a saved sinner on a mission to set other sinners free. Jesus says to me, to these men, and to all, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). I had the great privilege of preaching the gospel of repentance and faith (Mark 1:15-15) at the prison, and told these men that if they desired to be set free, they must abide in Christ’s word, and those words are found in Scripture. I was nervous before such a large audience, yet, I could say with the Apostle Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16). This means the gospel has the power. I have no power. Only God’s Word and His Spirit have power. Elsewhere, Paul wrote that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). It is simply unleashing God’s Word that saves people, particularly when the Spirit of God opens their minds to it.
Baptized In Prison
After the service, I asked if anyone else wanted to put their trust in Christ. Many came forward, but not as a result of what I said, but as an effect of the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Anything I can talk someone into, someone else can talk them out of, but when it’s the Spirit of God that moves men’s and women’s hearts, it’s a mighty miracle of the soul that makes them seek repentance and faith in Christ. It is God Who grants repentance (2 Tim 2:25); it is God Who quickens the dead (Eph 2:1-2); and it is God Who draws men and women to Himself through Christ to be saved (John 6:44). After these men came forward in brokenness and confessing their sins, they finally saw their need for Christ as their Savior. Today, He is their Savior, but for those who reject Him, He will be their Judge. To be your Savior is infinitely better than for Him to be your Judge (Rev 20:12-15). Today would be the best of days to put your trust in Him, while it’s still called “today” (2 Cor 6:2), because death comes to all, and after that, the judgment (Heb 9:27).
What is the biblical basis for ministering to prisoners? I’m not sure, but I believe it is what Jesus taught in Matthew 25. He said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matt 26:35-36), and the way Jesus sees it is, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40). Some would argue that those prisoners are in prison on account of their crime, and they deserve to be there. Fair enough, but we must leave room for change. Any Saul can become a Paul by God’s Spirit, so I don’t believe we should try to narrow the focus of that verse (Matt 25:36). I would rather err on the side of evangelizing prisoners than to seek to minister only to those who are in prison for their faith. Of course, we should minister to them (if it’s even possible), and pray for them, but we should also seek out the lost, and in the most unlikely of places; behind prison walls. I have seen the hardest of men brought to tears and humility. I have seen men’s hearts of stone turn to tenderheartedness. That’s God’s Spirit at work! There is a great harvest…white and ripe, and so who will go with me? Pray for more laborers to enter into the harvest, because “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matt 9:37), “therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:38).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.