"...In Prison And You Came..."
By Lois J. Stucky
Maybe you have never entered the door of a jail or prison to visit in person, but we invite you to come with us in this article on a little visit behind those locked doors in another way.
Although you may have no interest in looking beyond concrete walls and iron bars, yet we have a reason to do so. We read in Luke 4:18 that part of the earthly mission of the loving, compassionate Jesus, was to preach "deliverance to the captives" and "freedom to the prisoner." That doesn’t necessarily mean physical freedom, but includes freedom from the guilt and penalty of sin, freedom to serve God instead of the world, the flesh or the devil. Was Jesus here on earth today, He would be drawn to the prisons. He came not to call the righteous, but sinners everywhere to repentance (Matthew 9:13), to a turnaround from sinful living.
And is Jesus not here today in us, His Body? We believe you, as a member of that Body, want to be yielded to Him that He might do His work through you wherever He chooses. So bolster up your interest and come along.
Almost daily without fail as we read the mail coming to Herald of His Coming, we find letters from ones incarcerated in jails or prisons with whom we can "visit" by responding with literature and prayer. We hasten to say that we are sometimes ministered to by these letter "visits" even as we endeavor to minister to the writers. How we are blessed at times by the sweet, humble, grateful spirit of the letter--a spirit that was likely not there when the person was first incarcerated. Quiet times, time spent with Jesus and His Word, and a humbled, broken heart have made way for the meek, sweet spirit of Jesus in the life. It is all the more precious when we consider that these individuals write from surroundings of much anger, hatred, pride, bad language, immoral talk, etc.
Some of the letter "visits" are very short, with just a request to receive Herald of His Coming and other literature to help. Some confide that they have "hit bottom" and they want to make a turnaround in their life. They may have come to know of Herald of His Coming when an in-person visitor handed them a copy of the paper. Or perhaps they were in time to pick up a copy in the prison chapel before all were taken. A number of prison chaplains request packages to share with those under their ministry. The chaplains tell us there are no government funds with which to purchase religious materials, and they are grateful for the packages we send without charge.
Chaplains frequently ask for Spanish Herald literature as well as English, as the Hispanic population of our prisons increases. Warmhearted letter "visits" come also from Hispanic prisoners whose lives Jesus has transformed.
Some letter "visits" including glad testimonies that the writers have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour of their lives, acknowledge that it was not until their fast, selfish, sinful living landed them behind bars that they gave serious thought to the course of their lives and became receptive to the Gospel and to Christ as the answer to their need.
A striking thing noticed in letters of those who have trusted in Christ and experienced His forgiveness and gift of life everlasting, is that they are eager for us to send the Herald to their family--to their mother, to their wife, to their older children. It is a testimony to the reality of the new life they have found in Christ. The Herald provides them a way to share their glorious Saviour with those most dear to them.
It is also striking to read how those who are Christians soon begin to fellowship and congregate with others of like precious faith. Surely it is the Spirit drawing them together. When possible many pass on any Christian literature they receive to cell mates and others in their "pod" or corridor. Sometimes they hold Bible studies and prayer meetings together.
Some have told us that the Christian literature they receive is one of the few rays of sunshine that reach them in the gloom of prison life, and it lifts their eyes to the heavenly. It helps keep up their hope and inspires them onward to know that someone cares and wants to help them, and especially that Jesus cares and is with them to help them.
Some zealous Christian brothers and sisters in prison are diligently making use of prison time not only to grow spiritually themselves but are fervently interceding for and expecting God to send revival to their prison, a genuine, Holy Ghost, soul-saving revival that will affect even the guards and officials! Instead of plotting jail breaks or revengeful actions they will take when released, they are praying and studying God’s Word and witnessing, believing God to use these years for His glory and for the advancement of His Kingdom. Some feel called to serve the Lord full-time when released. The Herald is important to them as it instructs and supports them in their goals.
Often in our letter "visits" there are requests for prayer. Christian prisoners want to stay true to the Lord no matter what grave temptations surround them. Sometimes they ask prayer for unity among the Christian brethren who are there. With crowded conditions, with new converts only beginning to learn about the Christ life, with different doctrinal views represented among the brethren, sometimes there is strife and disagreement.
A serious burden on the heart of many a prison worker is that so great a number of the incarcerated, after being released, again commit crime even though they have professed salvation and are sent back into prison. Prisoners, and all of us, must come to a true and full repentance if we are to live a victorious life. Pray that true repentance will be preached and practiced in jails and prisons.
Sometimes prisoners need help to deal with fellow prisoners who are of other religions and need to know of Christ. And always there are the multitudes of the unbelieving, the hard of heart, the scornful who need Jesus. Prisoners frequently request prayer for their family. Separation is hard on marriages and may lead to the "free" member seeking divorce. The imprisoned one has often been the wage earner and the family is left in financial need. Many bear regret for pain and shame they have brought to their family. Women prisoners having young children yearn for them; some fathers worry about the children they should be guiding and guarding at home.
A recent letter "visit" told us, "Together with Jesus, you are my family here in prison, in my heart and spirit..." He is perhaps one who has been forsaken by his blood family. We are not able with our small staff to keep up a personal correspondence with prisoners, but we put our heart into publishing Herald of His Coming and trust it will seem like a personal message from us.
It was touching to be told by one whose signature revealed that he was a Korean: "I came to U.S. in 1980 when I was sixteen years old. Until 1992 my life was nothing but street life with a gang and drugs. On August 23, 1992 I was arrested and sentenced to 25 years. While I was incarcerated I met our Saviour, which was 1993. My life is totally changed. Praise the Lord! Now I’m happier than I was and God gives me joy to go through each day. Herald of His Coming is part of my Christian life in here. Please continue to send me...."
How sad to know that in this land to which some come for a "better life," they instead end up in the crime stream and in prison. How much better if we can reach them for Christ before they go to prison! Is there some young person with great potential for good or for evil that we can befriend now, perhaps interest in Sunday school and church, lead to the Lord, help them walk the good path and shun the evil? Maybe it is someone in your own family. God help us to use and not lose the opportunities around us. Reducing prison population begins with disciplining and discipling our youth.
We thank God for every jail worker and every ministry reaching out to the jails and prisons of America and the world. It takes all of us working together to reach the growing population in jails and prisons. Pray God will thrust forth yet more workers. Only Spirit-empowered preaching of the Gospel and Christ on the scene changing hearts and lives, can make the impact that is urgently needed.