Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. – Hebrews 13:1-3 ESV
The prison ministry at Exodus Church is several years old. Working through the chaplain of a nearby county prison, we provide the inmates with a homecooked meal and a gospel presentation once a month. It’s an extremely unique program of which we are blessed to be a part.
For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.- Psalm 69:33 ESV
There are all kinds of different responses to prison ministry. Some people are enthusiastic, “Yes! I’ve been wanting to do that!” Some are…less so. “Ummm, I’m just not comfortable with the idea of going into a prison with all the bars and guards and, you know, criminals.” My personal reaction was the latter, but I trusted the people who asked me to go and so I agreed.
It was a much different environment that I expected. I was buzzed into a nice lobby, then ushered into a large conference room where we were helped by smiling inmates in t-shirts and jeans, who were setting up tables and carrying food and joking with the guards. The guys came through the food line with smiles, saying thanks, and asking politely for more salad. We gathered up the women volunteers and went back to the female dorm where everyone was glad to see us and sat respectfully through a short sermon. As we broke into prayer groups, I looked around at the faces – grandmothers and young women, ladies you might see at the mall or at McDonalds, ladies who had fallen behind on child support or had unpaid parking tickets or who had been caught shoplifting. These were all people who had gotten some things right and some things wrong, just like the rest of us.
Today, the prison ministry of Exodus Church has grown and matured and is still going strong. Once a month, we prepare a homecooked meal and take it to the prison. The inmates are still grateful for a group that is willing to bring them food and gospel truth, people that are willing to sit among them and ask about their lives, and people who are willing to follow up with them after they are released. They talk about us to their families on the outside and they tell us how much of a positive difference we are making.
God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing… – Psalm 68:6 NIV
Ministering to inmates in prison can’t end when they walk out the door. So many of them go back into the same situations that got them in prison in the first place – the same place to live, the same friends, the same influences. They just don’t have the resources needed to make the changes that will set them on a different path.
We are currently working with at least two former inmates that have reached out to us for help after release. One, a young man we got to know well in the prison, is out and working and needs the emotional support of strong men who can guide him to become a strong man of faith. The second is a former female inmate who found herself and her children in a terrible situation after release. When she contacted us, members of the ministry and our church family immediately stepped in and have been providing housing, childcare, and financial assistance as she works hard to create a safe, stable environment for her kids.
“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” – Matthew 25:42-45 ESV
The goal of prison ministry is to share the gospel with the inmates, so that they may be led to a new life in Christ. We know that we cannot minister to the soul until we have ministered to the needs of the body. We provide a meal before we provide the gospel. We meet the need of providing for their kids before we present the need for Christ. Throughout the whole process, we tell them over and over of God’s love and care and provision.
But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. – Genesis 40:14 NIV
We live lives of privilege, you and I. Sure, we deal with heartache and deprivation, but on the whole, things go well with us, thus it is our role to remember and show kindness to those who are in prison. We serve those in prison because God cares for the prisoners; he asks us to be his hands and feet for them. What I have seen is that when we serve inmates, we receive an incomparable blessing. My life is different because I have been involved in prison ministry. I can see the impact that this ministry has made on the lives of the inmates and their families and I can see the impact they have made on those involved in this ministry.
There are so many ways to be part of the work the prison ministry does. We need people to go to the prison once a month. We need people to prepare food, to watch the children of those going to the prison, to be available for post-release support, and to pray for the ministry and the inmates we serve. If you are interested in helping or learning more about what we do in prison ministry, please contact Chris Diffley or email firstname.lastname@example.org.