We have been working with incarcerated men and women since 1960. Building a prison ministry is a challenge, but it is much needed. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a prisoner say to me, “My life is over; nothing matters anymore.” This is especially true of black men and women in prison.
As we said yesterday, one of the heroes of prison ministries is a man named Buck Griffith. He has been responsible for the conversion of literally thousands of prisoners. Not only has Buck done one-on-one work in the prisons, but he also started a program to help people with drug problems. The program called NewLife Behavior Ministries features Christians Against Substance Abuse (CASA) and provides psychological help and support for prisoners.
There is a desperate need for Christians to get involved in helping families and individuals whose lives have been upended. To help individuals and churches in building a prison ministry, Buck has released a book titled Loosed and Forgiven. This 158-page book has 12 chapters. The titles of the chapters tell you about its content: Chapter 1 – Getting Started Chapter 2 – A Planned Approach Chapter 3 – A Few Things About Crime Chapter 4 – Materials and Tools Chapter 5 – Wardens and Chaplains Chapter 6 – Ministering to Females (1) Chapter 7 – Ministering to females (2) Chapter 8 – Addiction Recovery Chapter 12 – Funding the Ministry Chapter 9 – Follow Up on Those Released Chapter 10 – Sex Offenders Chapter 11 – Writing to Prisoners
Prison ministry can be frustrating, and you should not underestimate Satan’s influence. When Satan has had his way with a man or woman, helping that person change life-course is an incredibly rewarding ministry. Buck Griffith has opened the door to building a prison ministry with this book. Congregations or individuals who want to help meet a great need can use it as a guide to get involved.
The New Life Behavior Ministry website is: nlbm.org
One of the major efforts of this ministry is to provide educational materials and support for men and women in prison. The United States has the largest prison population in the world, both numerically and in the percentage of the nation’s population. For that reason, workers are greatly needed in prison ministry.
In 1962 John Clayton began working with men and women in the local jail, and then at the state prison in Michigan City, Indiana. Helen Richards had been doing work in prisons, and the two of them began teaching both classes such as mathematics, and Bible-study classes. It became very apparent that a high percentage of the prisoners had embraced atheist teachings. When convicts were brought into the prison to begin their period of incarceration, they would be asked about their religious affiliation. They would pick a denomination, or the clerk would do it for them. The reality was that a vast percentage of inmates had rejected God and the Bible as useful in directing their lives. We wanted our prison ministry to help those prisoners.
In 1968 John Clayton wrote a three lesson apologetic course to use in prisons. This quickly evolved into a 13 lesson course so that prisoners could complete a lesson once a week each quarter. This course was written at a 4th-grade reading level, and there was a question sheet at the end of each lesson. The number of students grew rapidly, and the course became a nationwide correspondence course. Ten years later, John developed a college-level course reaching inmates who want to learn more advanced material.
At the same time, Helen Richards built up a series of lessons that were straight Bible studies. Interest in this educational prison ministry was so great that additional help was needed, and more courses were added. We now have just under 4,000 students in our two apologetics courses, about half of whom are active. We have nine courses graded by other workers with a large number of lessons being graded by this team every month. We provide students who enroll with the lessons and answer sheets to fill out and return to us in postpaid return envelopes. They take one course at a time, and the nine studies we offer are broken down into four areas:
1) Basic Courses – Bible lessons in simple language written especially for people who need a beginner course. Most of our prisoners start with this course. 2) A Special Needs Course for those who need help with substance abuse. 3) Four general courses dealing with Christianity as taught in the Bible. 4) Two Advanced Courses with in-depth biblical studies.
In today’s world, prison ministries get very little attention. DOES GOD EXIST? has had prison work as a part of its program from the beginning. In 1968 we did our first program in a prison although I had previously worked in prisons in the South Bend area with a sister in Christ named Helen Richards. I worked in prisons and with teenagers because no one else wanted to do it. Even my background as an atheist didn’t seem to bother either one of those populations.
I have stayed involved with both youth and prison ministries for over 50 years now. The need for Christians to get involved with prison ministries continues to grow. Arrests for drug possession have increased to such an extent that the United States has the world’s largest population of people in prison. Why do most congregations have no active prison ministries and no interest in spending time and money to start one?
The answer to that question is quite complex. Many congregations lack interest because converting a prisoner doesn’t bring any numerical increase in attendance, finance, or solutions to problems. Frequently people who are in prison are not the easiest people to deal with. They are depressed, frustrated, suspicious, and in need. Many have experienced violence in one way or the other. In spite of that, the Bible is full of examples of how prisoners should be treated. You can’t read the New Testament without finding a reference to prison work. (See Hebrews 13:3, Philemon 10, Philippians 1: 12-14, Acts 16:22-40; 24:23, Matthew 25:39, 44-45).
You don’t find atheists, humanists, naturalists, or evolutionists doing much work in prisons. What I do find is that many of the 3800 students taking our apologetic course are prisoners. They are also people who had lost their faith in God and the Bible and were living a “survival of the fittest” belief system that didn’t work. Disillusioned with secular humanism, atheism, and naturalism there are many prisoners desperately wanting evidence to rekindle their faith in God. We have donated our DVD series to over 100 prisons throughout the country and have found huge acceptance to them among prisoners. We frequently do single session workshops in prisons and find that the prisoners are hungry to learn and anxious to build a working faith.
The big problem with many prisons is that gangs run the prison system. Prisoners are moved from prison to prison to break up the gangs, but in some prisons the gangs have control. Education is a primary tool for addressing this problem. It is vital that prisoners know where to find help, and our materials are available without cost. Kings Crossing Prison Ministries in Corpus Christi, Texas, has materials available to help anyone who wishes to make a difference in the lives of men and women who desperately want to return to living a life of faith.
Yesterday we discussed an article by atheist Michael Shermer in which he stated that as atheism replaces belief in God “we should continue working on grounding our morals and values on viable secular sources such as reason and science.” (Scientific American, April 2018, page 77). At the same time Shermer’s article came out, we received a report on prison suicide rates.
NewLife Behavior Ministries issued a report of an increase in suicides in Texas prisons. The data came from the University of Texas Medical Branch saying that attempted suicides in Texas prisons jumped from 65 to 150 in the past four years. Statistics on suicides are very complicated, but every study we have seen has shown a huge increase in attempted suicides. The increase applies to all segments of the population, not just prison suicide rates but the general public as well.
The secular sources for morals and values that Shermer recommends would include people like atheists Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins. They advocate euthanasia for the “unfit” in society including Down Syndrome, mentally ill, and mentally deficient people. Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. He advocates for infanticide to eliminate defective children and for animal rights. In his book Practical Ethics, he concedes that the question of why we should act morally “cannot be given an answer that will provide everyone with overwhelming reasons for acting morally.”
From the beginning of this ministry, we have been involved in working with individuals who are incarcerated. The toughest part of prison ministry is inescapable. It is dealing with children who are experiencing incredible pain because of the actions of their parents.
Ezekiel 18:20 makes it clear, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son…” Still, children who are not guilty of any wrongdoing suffer when a parent is put in jail. It is excruciating to be part of “visitation” at a prison as children cry out for love and attention and can’t understand the reason for an end to the visit that always comes way too soon.
This issue has far-reaching consequences for all of us. Dr. Molinda Chartrand who works with both military families and incarcerated people says, “Hitting, biting, and hyperactivity are much more frequent when a parent is deployed or incarcerated.” Very young children who have a parent absent from the home have a 5% higher incident rate of behavior problems than the general population. Older preschoolers have a 20% higher rate.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that an estimated 2 million children with one or both parents incarcerated face the greatest risk of perpetuating the cycle of crime. Nearly 50% of all state prison inmates have either another family member in prison or have a family member who has been in prison.
There is a huge need for Christians to get involved in efforts to help address this problem. God’s plan for the family is the only plan that works. When the family is disrupted for whatever reason, it is the children who suffer as much as anyone. The toughest part of prison ministry is ministering to the children of inmates.
We have come across a story that shows the strength of some Christians, and how their ability to apply powerful forgiveness can bless others and bring about healing.
Carla Willmon was a junior at Harding University in 1995. Two men kidnapped and murdered Carla and were incarcerated for that terrible crime. In 2015 Carla’s parents, Roy and Jeanie Willmon wrote to each of the men. The Willmons expressed their forgiveness and their desire to study the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s forgiveness with them.
That kind of forgiveness is beyond the ability of most people to understand. Our natural reaction is to want revenge, to retaliate, and to build a dossier of hate. The problem is that the death of your child and the loss you have sustained is only made worse by building up all of those negative feelings.
After several months of correspondence and study, both men were baptized into Christ Jesus, and both are actively teaching others. These men have reached several other inmates with the gospel. The Willmons continue to send books and teaching materials to them.