I live an unremarkable existence except for one thing:
Eight years ago, I was able to volunteer to become a participant in a prison ministry program. This came to pass after my participation in church sponsored small group-sharing program where I met a man named Paul who was doing this ministry. It has become the most spiritually meaningful thing I do in my life. My beliefs have been changed from the perfunctory cultural to the truly spiritual. I visit a local jail about 40 miles from home. As a member of a team of about 15-20 men, each of us prepares a talk that are intended to break the ice or give a message about our faith. We tell personal stories of our own lives to 55 to 65 inmates we call residents. Over three days, 6 to 8 residents and I are seated at a table where I share time and eat meals. In between talks, I am free to converse personally and informally to an incarcerated resident. This process called ‘table talk’ is the stuff of spiritual awakening for the resident and me alike. After 3 days I haven given intimate details of my life to them and they do the same. I also give letters of encouragement to each inmate on the retreat. Every volunteer does this. I also solicit grade school children to write letters of encouragement to the resident. The effect the simple truth of youth touches places in a residents’ heart where adults and the penal system cannot penetrate.
The residents and I go from skepticism and mistrust to new friends. After 16 such retreats I have some of the same team members and resident friends since my first retreat. Some have been paroled and I believe because of the prison ministry, positive change happens for them, and they do not commit new crimes .What has become real for me is the vital spiritual life that exits in jail. It is a privilege to know these residents, to listen to their trials and tribulations and to witness the spiritual change in their heart we call ‘metanoia’. With newly found or bolstered faith, God changes their hearts. I can see it in the attitudes and body language of these men. It may take 2 or 3 retreats for this change to evolve and take hold of a resident. Prison ministry has also changed me. Moved by these retreats, I joined a Bible Study there on Wednesday evenings five years ago where a former resident and I bring scripture to the residents. Prison ministry and Bible study have buoyed my beliefs and it is I where learned the two rules for living life: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. I have come to know and feel God’s love for me through the prison ministry. The Bible says, faith without works, is dead. I try to make real and live out my faith by treating residents as I would like to be treated; and they do the same. With God’s help, the fruits of prison ministry changes hearts. This I believe.
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