Prayer requests and letters from prisoners across the country arrive daily. Incarcerated men and women pour out their hearts on those small pieces of paper. They tell tragic stories of separation from families, deep regret for crimes and harm done to others. They request prayer for cellmates, chaplains, officers and family members. The unselfishness of the prayer requests from men and women who have been stripped of every material possession and often their dignity are remarkable and humbling. As the mail arrives and I read requests the men and women who send them often become familiar to me and it is thrilling to see their growth in their relationship with Jesus. Praise reports of answered prayer move my heart and encourage those who are praying for them. Thank you notes and praise reports scribbled on the back of a prayer form remind me of the many things I daily take for granted.
One of the gifts from the Lord I was thankful for was my friend, Barbara Mahon, who was called by the Lord to assist in getting prayer requests to volunteer prayer warriors. She was efficient and dependable and an incredible blessing and helper in this ministry.
Barbara and I were thrilled when her mother gave her a used computer. It was desperately needed for data storage in our mission work in prisons. A tremendous amount of data needed to be entered regularly to keep up with on-going PFPI activities. She was my most dependable volunteer and incredibly efficient at data entry and computer technology. The used computer was a fantastic gift but in order for it to be functional for the ministry it had to be cleaned and repaired. With limited funds available we agreed a miracle was needed to get it up to speed for her use. Knowing prayer was the answer we settled at her kitchen table to beseech the Lord for the answer. With boldness Barb prayed, “Jesus, we could pray for money to pay someone to fix this computer but, Lord, I believe you have someone just waiting for us to ask them. You are all about relationships. Please lead us to that person.”
Since I was single, I worked three jobs to make ends meet and keep the ministry operating. I sold advertising for a Christian radio station, a secular senior newspaper and a national Christian directory. The Christian directory had changed hands and my sales appointments in southern Colorado were scheduled two to three weeks in advance by an associate in Maryland whom I never met personally.
The day after Barb and I prayed for someone to repair the computer I had an appointment in Colorado Springs. When the associate in Maryland told me the client’s name three weeks earlier something clicked in my mind. The name, *Conner Pullman, was unquestionably familiar but I could not place it . . . that is, until several minutes into our discussion at Conner's dining room table.
Conner was a large pleasant man and I began our conversation with pre-sales chitchat about weather, current events and life in general. Abruptly it hit me! I knew why his name was so familiar. Surprising myself, I said, “Excuse me, Conner, I don’t mean to be rude . . . but . . . have you ever . . . been in prison?”
His look of shock told me I should say something else . . . quickly. I always carry ministry materials with me so I yanked out a PFPI Freedom Walk newsletter with the prayer form on the back and held it in front of him. “The reason I ask,” I blurted, “is because I’m with Prayer For Prisoners International and your name sounded so familiar.”
With eyes popping and mouth gaping, Conner grabbed the newsletter and exclaimed in amazement, “I used to fill out one of these every month!”
We were astounded. Then another light came on. Conner is a computer technician and I was there to sell him an ad for his business in the Christian directory. “Conner, my friend, Barb and I prayed just yesterday for God to send someone to repair her computer . . . ”
Before I could finish the sentence, Conner was waving both hands in the air grinning broadly and exclaiming loudly, “I’m your man! I’m your man!”
We could have asked God to send money to repair the computer but He led Barb to pray for a person. God is into people and relationships. Conner was thrilled to give back to a ministry that blessed him while he was incarcerated. He repaired Barb’s computer at no charge.
State penal systems release thousands of prisoners yearly. These men and women struggle to find jobs, places to live and even churches where they are accepted. Few businesses hire ex-offenders. Connor, like others are finding the only way to survive without returning to old patterns which sent them to prison is by starting a business. After-care for prisoners is severely limited in every state. Lack of housing and work often drives freshly released prisoners to desperation which lands them back in prison. Ex-prisoners live among us. Some 95% of incarcerated individuals will be released into society. Whether we are aware or not, we encounter them daily in supermarkets, shopping malls, restaurants and churches.
Recidivism statistics are staggering. God has made a way for Christians to impact prisoners’ lives before they are released. For prisoners who come to know Christ through Bible studies, worship services and Christian publications like the Freedom Walk newsletter, the likelihood of them committing another crime and returning to prison is greatly reduced. For those with appropriate aftercare the percentage is much lower.
Aftercare is a support system for newly released prisoners. Ideally this consists of help in finding a place to live, a job, a vehicle and so forth. Most importantly, for Christians leaving prison, it includes spiritual support and a church home.
Sadly, ex-prisoners are not welcome in many churches. For example, one man told us he had walked into a church and several older ladies started singing, "Bringing in the thieves!" Some Christians become self-righteous and cross to the other side of the road to avoid those wounded and bleeding in the ditch. There are many "Conners" in our communities. You just never know when or where you might encounter one or even that you did. I certainly didn't expect to meet one on a sales call arranged for me from Maryland. What can we give to help these people on their feet and become productive citizens? What will you give? Many Christians will turn their backs, cover their eyes and pretend the problem doesn't exist. That won't change the truth. It takes so little time to pray for a prisoner. It takes more time and risk to help an ex-prisoner. Don't let fear rob you of the blessing of obedience.
While doors remain open the Christian community should take advantage of every opportunity to reach the lost, not only in prisons but everywhere. Few other countries have the freedom of religion that Americans enjoy. However, other countries with similar freedoms lost them because of apathy and assumption. Never take for granted your freedom to share Jesus Christ openly. This freedom is a gift and privilege from God which He expects us to use.
A question was posed at a gathering for people involved in aftercare ministries. The participants were divided into groups and each group was to search Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). The mission was to discover from this parable what the Samaritan provided for the wounded man in the ditch after the priest and the Levite crossed to the opposite side of the road to avoid him. Some answers were basic: food, transportation, money, medical care. Others went deeper: "He saw the man's need and obeyed God." "He gave compassion and love." "He put his own agenda aside to help the man." "He risked his own safety." "He gave, expecting nothing in return." This parable of the Good Samaritan truly is the picture of aftercare.
A man from one ministry said, "When my volunteers struggle to help these people I tell them, when you look at a prisoner, try to see Jesus. If that's too hard, try to see your brother or sister, your mother or father, or perhaps even your son or daughter."
Several former prisoners shared how they avoid the revolving door, a term for recidivism. Their answers deepened my resolve to continue the mission God called me to as a new Christian.
"Jesus! I was saved in prison."
"Prayer and the support of brothers and sisters in Christ . . ."
"A local church reached out to me."
"Light came to me through volunteers who came to prison." Addressing the volunteers present, he continued, "You don't often see the results of what you do but you plant seeds and the Father makes them grow."
How would Jesus complete this statement if He were talking to you? "I was in prison and you . . ." The blank could be filled a hundred ways. "Cursed me!" "Hated me." "Had compassion on me." "Visited me." "Prayed for me." Jesus could make a similar statement today and I believe He does. "When I left prison and needed help, you . . ." How will we fill in the blank? Jesus said, 'Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' He also said, 'What you refuse to do for the least of these brothers of mine, you refuse to do for me.' (Jan's paraphrase.)
Jesus said, 'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?' The expert in the law replied, 'The one who had mercy on him.' Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise' (Luke 10:36, 37).
* Name has been changed
Taken from Jan's book, "Rescuing Treasures of Darkness." For more information about this book or to purchase your own copy, click here.