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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What's Prison Ministry Like? Well...

I have no answer to the question in the title.

One person may minister one way, another another, etc.

But I can tell you what the ministry the Lord has opened for me looked like today.

This morning I traveled to Cameron, Mo to speak at "Christian General" in Crossroads Correctional Center. Crossroads houses 1,400 inmates...excuse me, we are not supposed to call them "inmates," they are "offenders." I'm sure there is a carefully thought out reason for this...It is a maximum security prison.

I speak to this particular group only once a month (on the second Wednesday). Crossroads has no programming on weekends, so all "religious" activities take place during week days. I also visit Crossroads on the 3rd and 4th Monday of each month.

Anyway, today there were about 80 inmate/offenders in attendance. About ten of them were white (no agenda here, just pointing out).

We have a ninety minute slot, so the first half hour or so was singing, with a "choir" of six or so inmates. It is like most any gathering on the streets...some in the audience sing, some don't, some talk...and, yes, a couple sleep.

Then I spoke on God's forgiveness. The men, as always by His grace, were very attentive. With my style, even the sleepers awoke.

As I finished the inmate coordinator opened it up to guy shared, another man was about to when a CO (Corrections Officer) popped in and shouted, "Code Six, line up outside."

I think it was a drill, but a code six implies someone is missing, everyone cells in and the CO's count noses to find out if, in fact, someone has vanished.

After the inmates had been dismissed to their cells, the CO said I could leave. I walked down to the Control Room and was told to go back (I'm glad I spent four years in the Army as well as a few years in prison; prepared me for stuff like this).

An hour or so later the place was still locked down but a white-shirt (officer) told me I could leave; went through the control room, down the stairs, and opened the exit door. Outside were several Cameron police officers, a couple SWAT type looking guys. They asked for my ID, and then let me through to my vehicle.

I drove to where the prison driveway met the main road to see a few more cars and automatic weapon carrying officers. They checked my id. had me pop the trunk (I drive a small Ford Focus...), and let me proceed.

So it was a normal day punctuated by an un-normal code six.

I never ask inmates why they are locked up, and if they begin to tell me I ask them not to tell me. Why? I don't want to run the risk of losing my objectivity.

But I did, during the code six, look at the sign in sheet and, on a whim, wrote down seven numbers.

When I (finally) got back to my office, I fired up the prison locator to see what the chosen seven were doing time for...

And this is what I discovered:

1) Armed robbery, 85 years
2) 1st Degree Murder, Life without parole
3) Rape, 101 years
4) Trafficking drugs, 41 years
5) Robbery/Assault, double life
6) 1st Degree Murder, Statutory Rape, Life without parole
7) Distributing/Manufacturing Controlled Substance, 24 years.

But you know what? I'm convinced that we've made two huge mistakes regarding ministry in North America:

1) We've perverted the ministry into a profession rather than a calling
2) We've carved out niches and specialties and thus confuse the issue

What do I mean? The first is patently obvious to anyone with eyes to see.

The second is perhaps a bit more dim...but we have "youth ministry," "senior ministry," "military ministry," "prison ministry," etc etc etc. its core..ministry is ministry...whether "vocational" (full time) or all-of-us: Love God, love people.

That's it.

Sure, augment it with awareness of your audience etc, but there isn't one gospel for teens and another for convicts and still another for military personnel.

People are people.

Love them, love God.

The very best definition of ministry I've ever read comes from Warren Wiersbe: 

"Ministry takes place
 when divine resources
 meet human needs
 through loving channels 
 to the glory of God."


Emily Kirkman said...

Well said,well read. In this age we want titles,respect, or a cool job description. But ministry is sometimes cleaning flower beds, sweeping floors, or being available to talk.
Not very glamorous but what God has called us to do.
Thanks for being faithful to His call!
K in WA

Anonymous said...

I liked this blog Jack… are doing the Lord's work and doing it well. Inmates at a level 4 prison are like a box of chocolates…you never know what you're going to get. However, you and I know that no matter what the've done….if they have sincerely chosen Jesus as their Lord and Master….they are washed clean. I always wonder (when I'm in these situations) what is really going on in their mind. Thanks for a great lesson on ministry. Bob

Joseph Pederson said...

Amen. Such a blessing for an open point of view. No politics just statements proofed with experience. Thank you for your ministry of Him.