by Joy LaPrade…
“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:37–40).
Once a month, a group of us from the Exodus Northlake and Belmont congregations get together with members of other churches in the area. We buy and prepare a lot of food, then pack it up and drive a half hour down the road to the York County Prison.
There are male and female prisoners, so we volunteers split up accordingly. We serve the dinner to the inmates, and we eat with them. Then we offer the Bread of Life. One of the volunteers presents the gospel, and afterwards we spend time talking and praying with the prisoners in smaller groups.
The men and women there are hungry for a home-cooked meal. They tell us how much they appreciate the dinners of ham or lasagna or barbecue chicken, with desserts like strawberry shortcake or chocolate cake. The prisoners are also hungry for hope. Although there are some who are hardened, perhaps angry, and uninterested in the gospel, there are many more who know they are in need. They are battling addiction or other sin. They ask for prayer, knowing when they return home no one will support them in their desire to change their patterns of life.
We get the chance to tell them about Jesus and His freedom. When Tracey Hines speaks to the women, she tells them that if they are able to hear and understand her voice, it is God’s doing—and because He is working, they ought to consider what she is saying about Him.
“This is all evangelism. We’re not watering a garden; we’re planting a field,” says Bubba Hines of the Northlake congregation, who founded the prison ministry two years ago.
He said he sees the ministry bearing fruit. There are men who are being saved and growing in their faith. There have been a number of prisoners who, after their release, have come to live with the Hines family for a time. The ministry is bearing fruit inside the church as well, Bubba said, as men get opportunities to preach and lead worship in the prison. Right now, they are taking turns teaching a series on the Beatitudes.
The fruit isn’t always obvious, though. Many of the prisoners who have lived with the Hines after their release end up returning to their old lives. It can be easier to follow Jesus in prison than on the outside, when you return to old friends, places and situations.
Tracey’s perspective on the ministry is so encouraging to me.
“This is what God has called me to do. It’s not my job to change them; it’s my job to obey Him. We may just be there to plant a seed or to show them this life,” she says. “I would rather choose obedience than safety.”
I hope some of you will consider joining us. These visits to the prison each month are opportunities for us love Jesus by doing what He describes in Matthew 25.
The prison requires all volunteers to attend an annual training, which is coming up this Saturday, Oct. 11, at 3 p.m. If you think you might be interested in participating in the ministry, be sure to come so you can get on the list of people authorized to visit the prison. By taking the training, you are under no obligation to participate any more than God makes you able.
Please contact Derick Henderson if you want to go; he will send you the form that you have to fill out and take with you to the training. During the training, there will be free childcare provided at the La Prades’ house in Gastonia, and we are planning to have a cookout afterwards. Please join us!