Over the years, I have noticed a number of organizations going into jails and prisons for various reasons. One of the most important and powerful groups is the variety of prison ministries who take the message of Christ to inmates.
These groups of selfless believers represent many types of denominations and faiths. I am most familiar with the Christian groups who bring the Word to local jails and prisons in the west Georgia area. Most of the men and women who do this service work do not want to be mentioned or given any recognition. They provide ministry to inmates because Jesus advocated this type action.
Over 2000 years ago, before Jesus commissioned all of His disciples to make disciples of all nations, he commissioned a number of John the Baptist’s followers to carry on a prison ministry to their teacher. They were to answer the question whether Jesus was the Promised One or whether they should expect someone else.
With the commission went the message: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me (Luke 7:18-23).” In that message there was, and is, also “freedom for the prisoners (Luke 4:18).” Jesus is the Son of God.
While most prison ministries are conducted by Christians who are not incarcerated, the Bible speaks of the importance of ministry within the walls of confinement.
Perhaps the most well-known prison ministry conducted by a prisoner was that of the Paul. Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, was imprisoned and under a sentence of death. Notwithstanding his situation, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, ministered to other inmates and guards, and wrote some of the most important letters in the Bible. Acts 16:25 records a prison ministry carried on by prisoners: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
That event in Philippi also marked the first occasion, but not the last, when a prison official was also converted by the gospel preached in prison: “He and all his family were baptized…. He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family (Acts 16:33).”
Based on my experience, I have also seen many inmates “find God” while they are incarcerated. Some of these people used religion or perceived spirituality as a vehicle to try to get out of jail or receive a lighter sentence. These folks are easily identified by most judges and prosecutors. The fake “finding religion” does not work very well when planning a way to responsibly handle a criminal case.
However, the Word of God does have a positive impact on many prisoners and inmates who receive the Word in a genuine way. Oftentimes, a trip to the county jail is the first time a person has ever heard or read the Bible. While it would be impossible to determine a prison ministry’s impact on the rate of recidivism, I can personally testify that I have seen many of my clients change their lives for the better by receiving Jesus Christ as their Savior. Prison ministry does help individuals and society as a whole.
Lastly, I just want to thank those folks who spoke to me about their work with prison ministries. Your work may go unnoticed in society. However, you are fulfilling one of the great commissions of Jesus Christ.