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Question - Why do you have a prison ministry?
Our Answer - You may wonder why we have a prison ministry. Do we have a special love for criminals? Not at all! We have never been in trouble with the law. In fact, if someone had told us in the mid 1980's that we would have a prison ministry, we would have been shocked.
So then, why are we doing this? It's because we love and serve Jesus Christ, and His love works through us! But why would God love criminals, you may ask. Jesus answered that question long ago when He said, "...It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32 NIV). What's more, "this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:22-24 NIV).
It seems that God has a special love and concern for the salvation of those who need Him the most. The religious leaders of His day had a hard time understanding this. They grew annoyed when a woman with a sordid background came into the home of a Pharisee where Jesus was dining. She stood behind Him, weeping, kissing His feet and washing them with perfume and tears. And she wiped them with her hair. "When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is - that she is a sinner'" (Luke 7:39 NIV).
Jesus replied, "...Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give Me any water for My feet, but she wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing My feet. You did not put oil on My head, but she has poured perfume on My feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little" (Luke 7:44-47 NIV).
Criminal behavior is not very lovable. Therefore it takes a special kind of love to have compassion on those who have caused so much suffering. Nevertheless, we are not running a prison inmate advocacy program. We are running a Jesus Christ advocacy program! Only He has enough love to forgive that which is humanly unforgivable.
While in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote to the church, "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:5-8 NIV).
Question - Have you ever been incarcerated?
Our Answer - No. It was a complete surprise to us when God opened up this ministry to us. For we had nothing in common with prison inmates, and could not identify with them in any way.
However, we have never tried to tailor our doctrine or literature to the specific needs of the incarcerated. We simply wrote articles that seemed appropriate to the social climate of the time, and which conformed to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
And then the letters began to come in from prison inmates. They were so encouraging and spiritually uplifting that our ministry continued to grow, a little bigger each year. Some years God would seem to prune us back a bit, but eventually the ministry grew even bigger still. And that leads us right up to the present time.
Question - Are you soft on crime?
Our Answer - No. We believe that the entire debt an individual owes to God has already been paid for through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and that those who come to God in repentance are forgiven their sins. However, Jesus drew a sharp distinction between the debt that a person owes to their government and the debt that they owe to God (see Matthew 22:16-21 and Luke 20:21-26). Therefore, even though a prison inmate may have repented of his sins, that does not cancel out the debt he owes to the government, society, or anyone else. Nor did Jesus come into this world to do away with the laws of God (Matthew 5:17-18).
After a person comes to the Lord there is a wonderful cleansing that takes place spiritually. The new believer feels bathed in God's love and joy, and wants to bring that love to others. However, those who do not know their Bible well, often allow their emotions to override their understanding of the Word of God. And this can create a problem in doctrine.
The Apostle Paul discussed this in his letter to the Corinthian church, chastising them for allowing immoral individuals to continue to live in sin and remain within the congregation. The church had thought that they were showing kindness and compassion for fellow parishioners. And they believed that such love was the "Christian" thing to do. But Paul told them that it was not. He made it clear that the primary loyalty that Christians ought to have should be to Jesus Christ, not to each other. He told them, "Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" (1 Corinthians 5:6 KJV. Also, see 1 Corinthians 15:33).
Paul made it clear that the Church of Christ must set such a good example of holiness and righteousness to the world that it brings glory to God. What the Corinthians were doing seemed loving and compassionate to them, but to the world, it looked hypocritical. Paul tried to convey to them that, unlike the devil, God is just, righteous, and law abiding. Therefore, the church can't tolerate even the perception that it is a safe harbor for evil, and a protector to those who seek to escape punishment for wrongdoing.
Paul explained to the church that living under the new covenant of grace doesn't mean we may sin with impunity! He compared sin to yeast, which spreads in bread until the whole loaf is filled with hot air. He was telling them that they were wrong to put their love for fellow believers ahead of their responsibility to keep the church pure and undefiled from this world's sin. And his analogy of the yeast in bread was a metaphor for sin in the church. He told them to expel the sinful individuals from their congregation before their sin spread and influenced others to do evil as well. For if this continued, it would eventually corrupt the entire body of Christ.
Some prison inmates think that by becoming Christians they can get an early parole. Roy Lee Jenkins speaks about this in our testimony section. The thief on the cross expected Jesus to be the means through which he could escape punishment. But he was rebuked by the thief on the other cross. "...Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:40-41 NIV).
Peter said, "...let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf" (1 Peter 4:15-16 KJV). We say anyone who is truly repentant will want to pay their debt back to society, as did Zacchaeus, who said, "...now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount" (Luke 19:8 NIV).
It is natural for a convict to become impatient and anxious about getting out of prison. Nevertheless, we encourage such a person to trust God with their life and to patiently allow Him to direct it. We often use the examples of Joseph (Genesis 37:2-36 and 39:1 thru 50:26) and Daniel (Daniel 1:1-6, 2:12-49, and 6:1-28) in our articles and counseling. They were both righteous young men who loved and served God, but ended up in prison for circumstances beyond their control. Yet when God was ready for them to get out of prison, they were not only delivered from it, but also blessed with power, riches, and influence as a result of their faith.
Even so, a distinction must be drawn between those who are suffering for Christ as compared to those who have committed awful crimes, and are paying their debt to society. We remind inmates that Peter wrote to the church, "...It is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God" (1 Peter 2:19-20 NIV). Therefore, those who try to use Christ as a means of escaping punishment only bring shame on Him and disgrace.
Anyone can serve Jesus when they get all they want, but the true test of a believer comes during the times of discouragement and bitter trials of faith (James 1:2-4 and 1 Peter 1:3-9). Because true Christianity means putting the will of God first, before our own will (Luke 22:42). That's why we teach prisoners that God does not exist to serve the church. We exist to serve Him!
Consequently, if and when the Lord is ready for an inmate to get out of prison, he or she won't have to spend a fortune on lawyers or waste all their time writing briefs. The doors of the prison will open for them very easily. But if it is not His will for them to ever get out of prison, or if they are to face the death penalty for a vicious murder, the best testimony of their faith in Christ is to keep their eyes on Him, and live what remains of their life beyond reproach!
In that way everyone will see the difference that Jesus can make, and that even in what were once the coldest and darkest of hearts, His light can shine through with joy and peace that the world cannot even understand (Philippians 4:7 and John 14:27). As Paul, the Apostle stated, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21 NIV)
Paul made it clear in his letters to the church that law enforcement officials are acting as God's emissaries when they punish those who have acted wickedly (Romans 13:4). This authority is based on the same principle as that of the parent, who becomes God's emissary over their child. And it is true even when the parent or government official is not living for God (see Matthew 24:45-51 and John 19:10-11.) The Apostle Peter echoed the same sentiment regardless of whether a prisoner believes he or she is suffering fairly or not (1 Peter 2:11-23). From the books of Genesis to Revelation, the Bible makes it clear that God expects mankind to promote justice and fairness in all governmental decisions. But there is no justice when evil is easily overlooked or excused.
Therefore, we maintain that those who believe that a convict should escape just punishment for the crimes he has committed, as a reward for becoming a Christian, are not standing on firm Biblical ground. And many times those who attempt to
thwart justice under the guise of scripture, are themselves, not living for God as they should (Romans 1:32). For while eternal justice lies under the jurisdiction of God (Revelation 20:11-15), a righteous and God fearing government will
not condone, excuse, or soft-pedal evil.
Question asked by - Jessica Smith
Location - San Diego, California
Question - Why did I first feel the Presence of the Lord when I got saved, then I went back to drugs and prison? Then, about 2 weeks ago, I rededicated my life to Jesus again, but I feel nothing. I have been out of prison for 7 years.
Our Answer - My guess is that you are holding back some secret desire that has not yet been fulfilled and are blaming God for it. It may not be anything materialistic. People have all kinds of prayers that are not answered by God in the way they want them to be answered. Some examples:
When these kind of prayers seem to go unanswered quickly the devil whispers, "God doesn't really love you. If He did, He'd answer your prayer. He knows that you are suffering and He's not doing anything about it. He doesn't care about you at all."
Have you been listening to Satan's lies and become resentful that the Lord isn't working fast enough to grant your desire? If so, this is probably causing a block in your relationship with God. I know this from personal experience. I once went through it myself. I eventually came to the realization that to serve God is to trust Him. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil" (Proverbs 3:5-7 NIV).
In reality, God always answers our prayers His way. His answer may be:
I still do not have what I prayed for 34 years ago. However, I know now that it would have gotten in the way of the Lord's plans for my life. But God has told me that I will get my wish eventually and I believe it is not far off. We just have to trust Him. He who loved you enough to suffer and die in your place will not withhold anything good from you unless it may be harmful to your walk with Him!
I hope this has been of some help to you!
Question asked by - Sue Mayne
Location - South Carolina
Question - Why were there prisons in Jesus's day and perhaps earlier before Jesus was born? I understand the prisoners were preached about Jesus and salvation. Why murderers and rapists etc. go to jail and then get out, a vast majority of them, yes born again, but stats show they get out and commit the same crimes or worse. This does not make sense when innocent children die, people starve and lose their jobs? Yet we spend tax money to give prisoners free room and board, this is called jailhouse religion?
Our Answer - 1. Prisons existed in Jesus' day and before He was born because people committed crimes back then as they do now. So they needed to be separated from the rest of society to keep the innocent safe and to punish those who were guilty, and to teach by example that punishment follows when crime is committed.
2. I am not sure what period you are referring to when you say that you understand the prisoners were preached about Jesus and salvation. Do you mean the early church? Or do you mean these days? Or are you referring to Ephesians 4:7-10 and 1 Peter 3:18-20, which tells us that after Jesus died on Calvary He went into Paradise to release the believers who had died righteous, trusting God, and took them up to Heaven with Him? Jesus preached to the evil spirits who remained behind in Hell at that time. Your question is unclear as you mix present tense with past tense.
However, yes, some prisoners do receive Christian teaching in prison and jail. As Jesus said, "...The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Luke 10:2 NIV). Nevertheless, that doesn't mean that all of the doctrine that is taught to prisoners is taught by reliable teachers (1 Timothy 1:3, 2 Timothy 4:3-4). Different denominations have various doctrines and often interpret the Bible in ways that we believe are erroneous. So not all the teachings prisoners receive are Bible based or what we at Bible Believers Fellowship, Inc. would approve of. We constantly remind people to read the Bible for themselves and not to trust every wild claim that a doctrine is gospel (Ephesians 4:14).
However, I fail to understand why you should have a problem with Christian teaching to prisoners because even doctrine that is less than perfect can change the lives of prison inmates. And surveys, such as the one we have on our website, have shown that prisoners who receive religious training while in prison are less likely to commit new crimes when they get out. And any new crimes they do commit are generally not as severe.
As for Born Again Christians committing new crimes when they get out, I have some serious doubts as to whether they ever really came to accept Christ and repent of their sins while in prison. Some may just claim to be Born Again in hopes of getting a better chance of parole. But Jesus did say that after we are cleansed and reborn to Him, we must remain in the Vine of Christ (John 15:1-8) and put our trust and confidence totally in Him, not ourselves, or what seems logical. We must live by faith, or we do not produce the good fruit of righteousness (Galatians 5:22-25). And without the good fruit, which can only be achieved through faith and trust in Him, we are not truly saved.
3. Now I want to respond to your question which asks, "Why murderers and rapists etc go to jail and then get out, a vast majority of them, yes born again, but stats show they get out and commit the same crimes or worse."
We don't live under a Theocracy today. That means a government ruled by God the Creator. The only people who ever lived that way were the ancient Hebrews in Old Testament times. If we lived that way today, rapists and murderers would not get out of prison whether they repented of their sins or not. God demands the death penalty for such crimes! It was that way in the Old Testament (Leviticus 24:17, Exodus 21:12,14,16,17). And Jesus said that He did not come to do away the Old Testament laws, as some people think. He said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until Heaven and Earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Matthew 5:17-18 NIV).
God's laws would remain just and fair to all people if He were running our world. And innocent people would not be punished for the sins of the guilty. He said, "Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty" (Exodus 23:6-7 NIV).
I strongly disagree with liberal religious leaders who teach that even the worst of criminals can be rehabilitated back into society. God's laws forbid that, even when a person repents of their sins to Him. "...Jesus said to them, 'Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's'" (Mark 12:17 NIV). Jesus paid for the debt we owe to God. He did not die to absolve the debts criminals owe to society. And Paul elaborated on this in his message to the Corinthians. The early church in Corinth had written to Paul bragging about how much love they had for the sinners in their church who had previously become Christians and attended church services. Paul was astonished. He said, "And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?" (1 Corinthians 5:2 NIV). Paul told them that some of the sins were so serious that the person should not only be thrown out of their church but handed over to the Roman authorities. He said, "When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 5:4-5 NIV).
In other words, he said that in making the man pay his debt to society for breaking the laws of God and the laws of the nation, the man would finally realized how serious his crime was and make an honest and sincere repentance to God. His false repentance to the church would just lead others to commit the same kinds of sin if he got away with it. That's what Paul meant by "Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?" (1 Corinthians 5:6 NIV). Likewise, in his letter to the Romans, Paul discusses other sins and how far mankind has drifted from the wisdom and laws of his Creator. He ends it by talking about those who actually condone such sinful beliefs and behavior and defend it. Then he says, "Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:32 NIV).
In my twenty-four years of dealing with prison inmates, I have learned that truly repentant murderers who have turned to the Lord and received great remorse over their crimes would much rather be executed and go home to be with Jesus than
languish in prison for decades at tax payer expense. It is not the prisoners who make the laws it is the politicians. And the judges are the ones who enforce them. Psychiatrists also make the tragic mistake of allowing dangerous offenders
to be released into society where they are tempted to commit new crimes.
Question asked by - Mar
Location - Phoenix, Arizona
Question - Is there a pen pal ministry where I can email a prison inmate? I realize this would go through an email address, possibly get printed out and given to the inmate.
Our Answer - Frankly, we get many requests from prison inmates who want a pen-pal. Most may claim to be Christian and want a good Christian influence in their life. However, since well over ninety percent of prison inmates are male, what most of them really want is a female pen-pal who can be a love interest in their life. They sometimes tell us their eye and hair color, race, age, hobbies, etc. as if they were putting an ad for a girlfriend in the personal pages of a newspaper. Some of them don't even claim to be Christians. They are just lonely and want a girlfriend.
We did try, many years ago, to do a pen-pal program. In fact, in 1992 I saw a trial on television & was so upset that the accused man was convicted of a murder I do not believe he committed that I began to correspond with him for several years. I cried when he wrote back telling me he was on death row. At first things worked out very well, when he felt he was going to be executed. He wanted a closer walk with God. But his attorney was able to get him off of death row and into the general population at the prison, albeit with a life sentence. And, as often happens when people get blessed by God in some way, he began to backslide. Eventually he became more influenced by the convicts around him, angry at God for keeping him in prison, and stopped corresponding with me. We later learned that he had attempted an escape along with other inmates. However, they were all caught and sent right back to prison, along with some additional punishment. All I can do is pray for him now. The experience was rather discouraging.
Nevertheless, I do know of one prison correspondence that worked out well, as far as I know. A church woman wrote to a male prisoner who was the brother of the pastor's wife. Eventually he got out of prison and they got married and had a child. Last I heard, they were still happily married. But that is rare. Prisoners change when they get out of prison. We have received many wonderful letters from Christian prisoners over the years. They are full of the Holy Spirit and feeling the peace and joy of knowing Christ. Then they get released from prison and they backslide right back to their old ways and lose all interest in Christ. I know of another woman who married a prison inmate while he was still incarcerated. He eventually got out of jail, got her pregnant, and went back to his old ways, ended up back in prison, and she had to go on public assistance and raise her son alone.
In answer to your question, not many prison ministries have pen-pal programs anymore. We used to send inmates who wanted a pen-pal to "Prison Fellowship", another ministry. However, they no longer have the program. A few years ago there was a documentary on television about prisoners who have had pen-pals. They said that all kinds of problems have evolved from them, including the male inmate getting the female pen-pal to help him in an attempt to break out of prison. Consequently, both of them were caught, and she went to prison herself, which made it even more difficult to see or write to her male friend. For inmates are often required to receive special permission in order to correspond with another inmate at a different prison.
You may be able to find a pen-pal program somewhere, but there are fewer than they used to be due to all the problems that have evolved from them. And, by the way, I don't know whether you are male or female, but male to male correspondence may work out better if you are a good Christian influence on the inmate. However, mostly what they really want are female correspondents.
I am also a bit confused about your statement. Very few prison inmates use email. So who do you have in mind that would deliver your message to the inmate? Most prison chaplains are very busy and I doubt that you will be able get any of them to assist you with this. It also sounds rather awkward to do it that way. Most pen-pals just use the U.S. Mail to send their letters.
You could try writing to or emailing some of the prison chaplains and ask them if they could recommend any prisoner you could correspond with. However, I suggest that you forget the idea of using email for prisoner correspondence. A regular snail mail letter would work much better. But keep in mind that both the letter you send the inmate, as well as the letter he or she sends you, will be opened and read by prison officials before it gets to its intended correspondent.
Hope this helps!
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