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.