If it works behind bars, it'll work anywhere...
leavesofdreams asked: For someone who’s thinking of helping out in a prison ministry, what is your advice? What kind of mental preparation do you recommend, if any? What can or would you share from your experience in prison ministry?
Unka Glen answered: After more than 20 years I suppose I could fill a book, but let’s talk about the most basic and important stuff. And let’s keep it to three do’s and three don’ts…
1. Don’t use gimmicks. Don’t use tricks, or hooks, or cute stories. You’re there to help them with their struggles. If you get to thinking that you need to impress them, and then they’ll be more likely to receive the Word from you, you’ll miss the real point, which is: if you don’t help them with their struggles, nothing else matters. If you do help them with their struggles, you’re home free.
2. Don’t have fear. Notice I didn’t say, “don’t show any fear”, and that’s because if you have fear you’ll show it. If you show fear, that’s your way of saying you’ve already judged them to be violent savages, while also demonstrating that you don’t actually think that God has your back. Perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), and love is where your heart should be.
3. Don’t think for a second that sincerity and jolly earnestness will get the job done. I see a lot of (especially white) Christians act as if they project a real sincere and earnest attitude, that people will really be impressed with how spiritual they are. That doesn’t work anywhere, but it really won’t work behind bars. You need to mourn with those that mourn (Romans 12:15), if these brothers are feeling low, don’t go in there with your chirpy little self and act all happy. Instead listen, and let them tell you how they’re feeling, so you can know how to have the right attitude, and how to speak to the things that really matter.
1. Do be serious. By that I don’t mean that you can’t have fun and be light hearted, I mean be serious-minded. That you take this thing seriously. You’re asking them to make a serious (and in some cases a very dangerous) decision to give up everything they’ve known before, to follow an invisible God. This isn’t play time. Moreover, you’ll generally find that the most serious individuals in the lockup tend have the most rank in the gang hierarchy, and those are, of course, the main guys you want to reach.
2. Do be consistent. A brother who’s there every week carries more weight than the world’s best preacher who blows in and blows out. It’s all about earning the right to be heard. To build and maintain credibility with these inmates.
3. Do be loving. All the guys I work with get big bear hugs, and I tell them all, “hey bro, I love you, don’t forget that”. I say it from the pulpit. I yell it down the halls. I say a quick prayer with whoever I can. I ask, “how’s your momma and them doin’”. It’s an old cliche for a reason: they don’t care what you know, until they know you care.
Reaching the hard-hearted
lightthelove asked: I’ve been watching prison documentaries and started getting a lot of thoughts and questions in my head. They’re so hardened and hard-hearted. How do you affect people like that? I know everybody has a soft spot, but how do you convince them to turn to God instead? You should share more of your prison ministry stories with us. I’d love that. =)
Unka Glen answered: Let me put it to you this way: the Holy Spirit is drawing everyone to Himself. Everyone feels that pull. Maybe just on a subconscious level, but they feel it. When I’m doing prison ministry, or when i’m doing ministry right here on Tumblr, I’m looking to come in on that wavelength. I want to be in harmony with the Holy Spirit, so that people feel a deeper connection going on.
Behind bars, if I speak with a judgmental or condescending tone, then I’ll not only offend them (which is bad), but they’ll feel on some level that I’m not in tune with the Lord, (which is REAL bad). Jesus said “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” If I preached in a way that made them feel wracked with guilt, they wouldn’t be set free, and they wouldn’t stick around to see what I might have to say next.
When I preach behind bars, it’s a simple equation: can this adorable little bald man with the cowboy accent manage to say anything that would set me free from all the junk and sin and lies that have me all tangled up? If I manage to do just that, then I’m an asset to them. I have value. I’ve EARNED my spot.
But here’s where it gets interesting. If I consistently deliver on speaking truths that set them free, then they eventually decide that I’m a man of God, and an ambassador of Christ. They hold the door open for me, they give me their seat, they ask me if I need anything. When I go to a different part of the building, the gang leader there knows me, he’s been told to watch out for me and help me with anything I need.
Eventually that reputation grows and doors are open everywhere I go. No hard hearts where I am. Of course, as you can imagine, I have to deliver, every day, as expectations only go up as the reputation expands. I’m who I am because they wouldn’t let me get away with anything less.
You should know that all this is how most overseas missions is done, and even church youth ministry can sometimes look like this. You should also know that this is how churches should be planted and grown, by starting all the way at the beginning, and earning an ever expanding reputation in the secular world.
Finally, you asked for a story, and I’ll give you a super short one what I think will apply to my fellow bloggers out there. A few years ago I was on a speaking tour and I was invited to speak at a state penitentiary in Arkansas, and of course I agreed. I then got a nice little letter from the chaplain’s assistant (who was an inmate), and it was thanking me for agreeing to come by and speak.
I took just a couple of quick seconds to write him back and tell him that I, in fact, was the thankful one, and that this was a privilege for me. I told him I had been praying for him and the brothers constantly, and a few other encouraging and loving words that I hardly remember, and I dashed it it off.
When I got to the penitentiary, I found that the chaplain’s assistant had photocopied my return letter and was giving out copies to any inmates that requested it. I saw this quick and hastily worded letter hanging up like a poster on the walls of cell after cell. It was everywhere you looked. I got to the chapel and it was literally standing room only. If I’d have only known how much impact I could have had, I would have really paid more attention to that letter!
What you do on Tumblr is just like this, you have no idea what kind of impact you might have on people locked in a prison of their own making, and longing for a word of comfort, or a word of wisdom that can set them free.
“Standing in the lowly place with the easily despised, and the readily left out, and with the demonized — so that the demonizing will stop — and with the disposable — so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. That gives me life, that’s where I want to be. I think that’s where Jesus insists on standing.”—Fr. Greg Boyle, from his interview with Krista Tippett at the Chautauqua Institution
Prayer Request Saturday
sabellefolie asks: I request prayer for my mother. She tells me she has a problem, but won’t explicitly say it. I hope it all gets better soon. :(
thinkofmelater asks that we pray for the Ugandan crisis involving Joseph Kony.
— Our Urban and Prison ministry just added new staff members, Pete and Tasha Lawson.
— And to these people for being a Godly source of encouragement to me this week, follow them if you’re looking for an encouraging word of your own:
Subscribe to the new podcast featuring Myself, Jed Brewer, Lee Younger, and produced by Matt King, and don’t forget to leave a nice review…
I was up in the Boston area this weekend for my grandfather’s funeral. It was held in the parish where my grandmother and he worshiped for decades and his ashes were put in the memorial gardens there.
I dont think my mom ever told me in fact howw awesome of an Episcopal priest my grandfather had been. The homily at his funeral was giving by the first ordained female bishop in the whole Anglican Communion…ie thefirst one in the whoolleee world of Anglicanism. Apparently, before she had decided to go into seminary, she and my grandpa worked together in prison ministry in the Philadelphia area for years back in the 60s and 70s. That is just so awesome! And she gave a wonderful homily.
Afterwards, the family, which included my mom and my 4 aunts and the majority of my 20 or so odd cousins, went back to my grandmother’s house and just enjoyed each other’s company. My youngest aunt, whos like 45 or so, brought outside a bunch of my grandfather’s copies of his many theses (he had like literatlly 10 degrees) and a lot of his case studies he did about social work and prison ministry. Reading them was so awesome!
Before he had a car accident in the early 1990s that left him in a coma for a month, he had been a very very very uber intelligent, wise, and thought provoking Episcopal priest. It was amazing to hear all the stories about him that his childhood friend told and reading a lot of his sermons.
Jail Songs #6
All I Have
Here’s another song I wrote for our ministry at the Anderson County Jail. The brothers in Unit 2 love singing this one like crazy. It’s all about how important it is to tell God (out loud) how much we need Him - not depending on our own strength or wisdom to make it through, but completely depending on His power.
As always, this is a FREE download, so listen or grab a copy for yourself. Also, if you’d like to play this song for yourself at your Bible study, youth group or church, that would absolutely make my day. To get a free chord chart, just click HERE.
Here are the lyrics:
ALL I HAVE
I don’t have what it takes,
I know I’m not good enough
So I’m trusting in Your grace
I’m resting on your love
I know that I am weak
I know that I need help
So I’m begging on my knees
I can’t do this by myself
Lord, all I have
Lord, all I need
Is You right now
You here with me
Well I don’t need advice
Or principles for change
I need You in my life
I need Your power today
I know that on my own
My life would be a mess
Don’t leave me here alone
I’m desperate, I confess
You’re all I have
You’re all I need
Help me right now
Lord, change me
More from Sabazius about a particular story of Thelema and Prison Ministry
“We never intended to excuse or condone Wallace’s crimes, or even to down-play their severity. They were, as I acknowledged in my previous post, horrific. Our intent was to recognize what was portrayed to us as the recovery of a human being from a terrible past through his personal acceptance of the Law of Thelema, and the attendant changes in his understanding of his place in the Universe in relation to that of his fellow human beings.
It remains our hope that Wallace’s statements to his correspondents were, in fact, sincere. If they were not, we still maintain our belief and hope that the Law of Thelema, properly interpreted, can be of benefit to others who have led troubled lives.” [via]
So it’s been quite awhile since we have updated this blog and that is because so much has been going on since then. We had the Soccer Camp with Ron Rhoads in Borel where 100 kids were blessed, many received salvation, and the church there was empowered to continue to reach out to the community of Borel. Also, we spent time working with Thomas Rosten, a class mate of Thad’s who spent the last year ministering in Peru and other places in South America. Jeff’s family spent a week with us visiting the tent camps and seeing Haiti first hand, and as of now Alex is back in the states starting to make plans for fundraising so we can continue the work we are doing here in Haiti even past July. These are the things been going on in short but I want to spend this blog giving you guys a deeper look into one of the main ministries we’ve been doing here in Haiti; the ministry in the prison of Arcahaie.
“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering,” Hebrews 13:3. Over two years ago Diesmy Garcon read this verse and was struck as to how he had never visited the men and women who sit in the cells of the Haitian prisons and from there he sought out to show these people love and share the gospel of Jesus with them. When Thad came to Haiti for his first six months in 2010, Diesmy and him decided to visit the prisons and when he returned to America he promised to raise money to come back and do more. Many of you reading gave money to JCI specifically to minister to those in the prisons, and over the last four months we have visited the men in the Arcahaie prison almost every week.
Let me give you a little idea about what the prison in Arcahaie looks like. Around 125 men are held there at any given time, most of them serving long-term sentences, but some serving only a few months. You can find anywhere from 6 to 14 men in a single cell and twice a day they are fed a small bowl of flavorless glop. A lot of the guys in the prison there have been moved from large prisons some hours away so they rarely receive visitors because it is just too far for their families to travel. A man could be in prison there for murder or for debt, but all are housed together. They are let out of the cell once a day to shower and move around a little. This is the extent of their lives and for some this will be their lives until they die.
A typical visit looks like this: we go into the courtyard of the prison and the cells are all around us so the guys can look out and see and hear what’s going on. We sing some worship and then we pray. We spent a few weeks teaching on prayer and encouraging the men in the prison to engage with lifting their country through prayer and many of the men there have responded. They pray with fever for their country and for each other. After we pray we often share some teaching or encouragement and then we take time to go to each cell, pass out food and drink and pray for individuals.
As we’ve taught on the works of Christ and his desire to give new life, we’ve seen it start to take place in the hearts of the men in Arcahaie. One of the most powerful things has been to see some of these men get out of prison. We were able to meet with a gentleman named Henry after he left the prison. I can’t express the joy it was to see him clean shaven, color in his face and not behind bars. We knew he had freedom in his life, but to see his physical freedom was indescribable.
About five weeks ago we began to teach these men about baptism and how it is the next step to take after you become a Christian. We spent two weeks teaching them and answering questions and then we planned a very special day. We received so much favor with the men who ran the prison because they allowed us to bring in a blow up swimming pool and use their water to fill it, and let me tell you something, you never know how much water is in a pool like that until you must fill it by hand. We filled the pool by hand with five gallon buckets and got the new believers around to baptize them right there in the prison. To our amazement we baptized forty-one men that day, ten of whom became Christians the same day, and one of those men, Wilfred, was able to get out of prison the same day he was baptized into his new life with Christ. Talk about a power way to start a new chapter of freedom in his life.
God is doing amazing work in the prison of Arcahaie. We plan to continue visiting men there and Jimmy (the Haitian man who works with JCI) will put together a team to go even beyond July. Pray for deeper discipleship for these men and continuing growth of their faith and love for the Lord.
About a month ago, I made a phone call that I would never had imagine making as much as an impact in my life as it did. My great Aunt and Uncle, Helen and Harold, started a prison ministry program in the ‘80’s in Madison, TN. They are both now in their middle 80’s. I was home for Labor Day weekend, and decided to give them a call. I want to be a missionary, and had been thinking about how amazing of an opportunity it would be if I could go with them. I called them and asked about the possibility. When they told me I could go, I asked if I could bring some friends from school. Aunt Helen gave me the run down on what all I would have to do to make that possible. I immediately sent a mass message to anyone I thought would be interested in such a trip. I got a few indifferent responses and a few enthusiastic responses. Later that week, I sat down with some friends while we talked about the idea of doing it. It was still a fresh and nifty idea, but mostly just something interesting to talk about it. A few weeks later it came up again while sitting in a local coffee shop. We stopped wanting it to be an idea or the subject of dreamy conversations, but rather an actual event in the works. We made a group on Facebook, and I sent out another group message in hopes of people getting more serious. The truth was though that people had no idea what to expect and my lack of experience meant that I couldn’t tell them. I was frustrated of the idea not being taken seriously, so I decided with my friends Josh Allison and Whitney Pirtle that the first trip should be small. We wanted to make sure that we all were all able to get close and know what to tell everyone else that they would be getting themselves into. Two weeks ago, we started making the plans official. We set a date of the trip, sent in everyone’s information to be cleared, and found a place to stay the night before. We had been asking a couple of people for any Bibles that they would be willing to donate to the prison. Brad Montague saw a post that Josh made, and sent him a message inquiring about what we were doing. He sent Josh a few questions that we sat down and answered together. Within a few days, was the school’s first Idea Lab. When we got there, Brad asked us to talk about the upcoming trip to the prison. The response blew us away. People asked us a ton of questions, both at and outside the event. Brad went and posted the questions we answered on the GO! blog. Again, the response was incredible.
We left Saturday morning to make our way to Nashville. We had decided to spend Saturday bonding and goofing off. We went to a festival at Centennial Park. There was an international festival that was a part of the free Musicians Corner concert. We walked around, listening to new and fresh music, talking to interesting strangers, and ogling the scenery. From there we went to a coffee shop and walked the streets. The whole day was filled with music, coffee, and bonding. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We made our way to my cousin’s house that we were staying at for the night. We all found ourselves, whether together or apart, praying and trying to prepare ourselves for the day that was soon to be upon us.
The next morning after getting ready, we all went to Burger King. There is no way to describe what happened there other than God working to prepare us. We met a man named Henry or “Red.” Henry started talking to us while standing in line, and ending up sitting next to us while we ate. Henry decided to tell us a painful story. He had been in prison for 13 years. When he got out of prison, he found himself falling sort of a pretty life. His circumstances were and had been unlovable, dirty, and painful to hear. Before we left, we prayed with him. The look in his eyes displayed shock and love. It’s amazing to know God sent us there, because that was where He needed us to be.
We went to Tennessee’s Prison for Women. Josh and Whitney got to meet Aunt Helen and Uncle Harold, who are affectionately called Momma and Poppa Cox to the prisoners. We spent a good while talking before we went in. I’m not exactly sure what to say I expected. Whatever it was, today blew it out of the water. The women were loving, friendly, and huggable. They talked to us, hugged us, and welcomed us warmly. Josh lead the singing while a man named Thomas Snow did the sermon. The sermon was on Ezekiel 37. He described how even when we have “dry bones,” the Lord still has a plan for us. Even when things look hopeless, our hope is in the Lord. We worshiped with them there and an annex across the street.
I learned something from those women. Firstly I learned that stereotypes can and should be left at the door that God opens. Those women were kind, generous, and loving souls who wanted to be there to praise their God. The second thing I learned was in watching. They praise with no restrictions and without holding back. No one fell asleep and no one was distracted. Those women were there because they had a need to be in their souls. How often we take for granted the ability to worship. This weekend definitely tops my favorite weekends since coming to Freed. There are plans in the works to make this a periodical trip, that would branch out farther. God gave me an open door, and with some incredible friends, we’ve been running through open passageways. God has planted ideas in our heads and our hearts and is now making those ideas possible. Thank you warmly to all of you who prayed for us and gave us encouragement. However, it definitely does not stop here. We’re trying to collect Bibles to donate to the prisons, as well as finding people willing to volunteer. If you want to know more or get involved, please send a message our way!
God does wonderful things.
dear lovely people,
I am going on a mission trip this summer to minister to people in prisons.
I’m super excited. So often people in prison are overlooked by the Christian community, and i’m sooo blessed to get the opportunity to get to go into places this summer where not many missionaries get to go, to share love with people who need it.
But i have lots of $$$ to raise.
could you help out?
it’s really easy to give online, and even tiny amounts like $5 make a difference!
So, could you help me out by praying for me(thats the most important part!), supporting me financially, and reblogging this post?
You know who's going to juvenile prison?
Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the boys who repeatedly raped and degraded an unconscious girl in Steubenville last summer.
Unclean, by Simcha Fischer:
I spent a good part of yesterday reading up on this case, trying to wrap my mind around how the world must look to these teenage boys. I tried to imagine what it would do to a person to grow up without strong, caring parents — to come of age in an atmosphere where nobody tells you how to behave, where no one teaches courtesy or responsibility, and where everyone celebrates your strength and power, so that you feel like you can do no wrong. I wasn’t trying to make excuses for them; I was just trying to get a foothold in the point of view of a couple of boys who figured the coach would take care of it, whatever they did.
Nope, I couldn’t do it. I was sorry they didn’t have strong dads, or whatever. I was sorry they didn’t go to catechism, like my kids do. But I just kept coming back to the idea that they must have known that what they were doing was wrong. They must have known. They did know. They are responsible for their behavior. There is no excuse.
I still think this. But, seeing the photo above, I had to ask myself: what about the teenagers whose feet the pope will wash? Will they be specially chosen because they are … what, only half bad? Misunderstood rascals? Basically good kids who got mixed up with the wrong crowd? Maybe. But maybe — even likely — they were serving time because they had done something just as unthinkably, disgustingly wrong as Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond. They were in juvie, not prison, only because of their age. And the pope would be there, washing their feet.
I hadn’t thought about this. Definitely changes things.