By Scott Colburn
One of the ministries by which Christ's disciples meet him face to face (in Matt. 25:42-ff.) is visiting the imprisoned. “As you did this to the least of these my brothers, so you did this to me.” The Cafe and Church Army evangelists have taken the ministry seriously for a long time. Capt. Brad does recovery classes at the Beaver County Jail. Capt. Nancy has done her Way Out Workshops there. Capts. Dudley and Anna led Bible Studies at the jail, and Dudley also served in the Kairos movement at a state penitentiary. I (Scott ) currently help lead a Bible study on Sunday night, that has gone on for five or six years, along with Capt. Herb, Scott and Sue B. and a lot of our friends.
By the end of April we'll have finished a study of Acts (on the men's side) that the men seem to love. They get to see that Jesus' plan of salvation was for the Gentiles, not just for the Jews, and that the church still works the way it always did from the first. It operates by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the boldness of missionaries, the wisdom of elders in council, the humble service of helpers among the ranks, and the steadfastness of martyrs willing to give all for the Gospel and unafraid of the scorn and power of the unbelieving world.
Most of the inmates at the BCJ know that they have been on the path of Folly, and many of them desire to get on the path of Wisdom. On the mens' side, where I teach, many of them are Christians and spend a lot of time reading the Bible. They have a pretty good group that prays together on the pods. They are hungry for the word of God, and receptive to anyone who wants to bring it to them. The women have, in the past couple years anyway, had less spiritual formation and knowledge of Christianity previous to coming to the Bible Study, but they are also thirsting for the word. The women who run the Sunday night study are seeing them make great strides.
The longer I have been involved with this ministry, the more it has become personal to me. I get older and the prisoners get younger. I feel like they're “my” kids, and I want them out of jail and into a community that will love, nurture and disciple them. Another reason the ministry has become personal to me is that one of my good friends from the cafe community in the past years is now in the system, and came to the Sunday Night Bible Study while he was still at the BCJ. This man is a Christian who has the gift of Evangelism and also has a ministry to some of the least, the last and the lost.
Look, going into the jails is a great ministry as far as it goes, but there's a larger part missing that maybe your church can help with. Almost all inmates leave jail, and the BCJ folks leave sooner than later. Unfortunately, many of them will return. One of the effective ways to keep them from going back is to get them in church. Our jail visiting program is about starting them on the path to a church when they get out of jail. But if they visit your church, will they be welcome? Will they both hear the gospel preached and experience the gospel lived as your church supports them in their faith, in their choice of sobriety (the reason a lot of them are in the jail in the first place) and in living a pretty fragile freedom? Your church is probably looking for new members, or wishes it had some. These men and women are hungry for a new life, and they've heard something about it from those of us who visit them in the jail, but they need you too. They need the accountability, community and discipling your church can provide, and your church needs people who can offer themselves as a testimony to the transforming power of the gospel to heal broken lives. Did I mention that many of these folks are really good singers, readers and pray-ers?
Please pray for: this year's volunteers who are going to be trained in April and May so they can visit the BCJ this next year, for those who work in the jails, for the inmates and for their families.
Hearing the name Aliquippa never really elicited the same reaction from me as it did from other people living outside of it. When people talked about Aliquippa I would think of my dad’s hometown and my grandparents who lived on the outskirts of Plan 12. I would think of Sunday lunches held at their house each week and attending the San Rocco festival in the summer. But as I got older I realized that people were afraid of this town that was so sentimental to me.
I first heard of the Uncommon Grounds Café through Esther Meek and Geneva College. I was on the Outreach Committee at my church, Chapel PCA and I thought this would be a great opportunity to get our congregation involved in local mission work.
I soon realized that the general consensus was that Aliquippa was a dangerous place to be volunteering. But God had already given me a heart for Aliquippa so I pursued it anyway.
Geneva College was participating in a Spring Break Trip to Aliquippa with Esther as the professor associated with the trip. So I called her and she encouraged me to meet the Director, John Stanley. Somehow I ended up on the kitchen staff for the summer along with Eileen Kerr and Ashley Jackson. I loved working with them and getting to know people in the Aliquippa community. I loved the vision that John had for restoration and Shalom for the misunderstood town.
And like Esther, I desired to see my home church love Aliquippa, too. Our church had just recently done a trip overseas where our eyes were opened more to God’s command to share the Gospel with all the nations. Matthew 16:15 states, “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’” The plan was to alternate between foreign and local trips each summer. It was agreed upon that Aliquippa would be a great way to ease ourselves in to local missions. The team sent that summer was transformed, myself included. We saw a side to Aliquippa that most people don’t see. We saw neighbors loving each other and helping to make their street beautiful. We saw many loving children who were happy to see us. We saw hope in a town forgotten by many and we brought that back to our congregation.
It was so beautiful to see a congregation transform and to develop a heart for our local community in a new way. Our church has done several summer trips to Aliquippa along with various work days and breakfast meetings at the café. An attitude of fear and uncertainty has been replaced with one of trusting in our Savior to lead and guide us wherever He would have us go.
During one of our summer mission trips to Aliquippa, our team met with leaders from Aliquippa Impact. I was moved by the work that they do in lives of kids but was not at a point where I felt I could commit to becoming a part of it. Years later I was convicted by the Holy Spirit to be less selfish with my time and to make a commitment. When I first became involved with Aliquippa I was single but when I was considering becoming a mentor I was married and had to think of another person besides myself. My husband was a great encouragement to me. He appreciated my desire to serve whether at the café or through mentoring and encouraged me to go where I felt God was calling.
With my husband’s support, I worked with the AI staff, completed training and was paired with an awesome nine year old named Angel. One of the biggest parts of mentoring is just showing up. I’m not exciting or entertaining or necessarily great with kids but I knew that I could show up and be reliable. There have been ups and downs but I am so thankful for the experience so far. Angel is such a blessing to my life.
I’m so excited to see what God has planned for Aliquippa and the many ministries there. He is doing great things in the town of Aliquippa and in the hearts of her people. Come to Aliquippa – taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).