A Mission Field Near You
December 8, 2015
Reading articles and looking at photos about missionary work in a third world country is always inspiring, but we can’t show you pictures of this mission field! This drawback however, doesn’t make it any less of a mission field; in fact, Jesus actually mentioned this particular field by name in Matt 25:36, telling us that ministering to those in prison is the same as ministering to Him. So instead of photos, use your sanctified imaginations to limpse the blessings to be experienced in this unique and important mission field. About two years ago we were informed of a Seventh-day Adventist inmate program that had been started at a maximum security facility about 2 hours south of us. The original volunteer group could no longer oversee the meetings, but unlike some facilities, the administration was allowing the inmates to meet for services without outside volunteers. After speaking with prison officials, we were approved to meet with this group twice a month. Some readers might remember our first visit to this facility where we discovered a group of about 50 inmates who referred to themselves as non-denominational, and scarcely even resembled a religious group. Their time was mostly spent singing and performing for each other, and not too reverently I might add. Needless to say, we were met with much opposition on that first visit. In fact, the inmate leader let us know that, “We have this service just the way we like it.” With some urging, he allowed me to share a brief testimony explaining that I spent 10 years in prison myself. This always changes the attitude of inmates, knowing that you have seen life through their eyes, but it was still obvious that approaching this situation would require much prayer and guidance from above. Over these last two years we have waited patiently for our turn to speak, listened uncritically to their musical performances and just tried to be their friends. Slowly, ever so slowly, our patience has paid off. Their song service is much shorter and significantly more reverent, and they are now very open to our messages. Of course some who attended only for the “jam session” have left, but others have taken their place. We now have the largest attendance of any religious group at this prison, sometimes topping 100, and the volunteer coordinator recently asked us if we could begin coming every week. Praise God! About three months ago, one of our evangelists Brian Beavers gave an excellent presentation on the Sabbath, one of the inmate leaders, we’ll call him Ray, stood up when Brian finished, and began to declare that his sermon was trash, that the Sabbath was Sunday, and that nothing Brian said was true. Ray is about 300 pounds of pure muscle and his passionate declarations laced with anger were somewhat intimidating. Attempting a rebuttal would have been futile, so we were quite happy that it was about time to leave. We discussed the problem on our way home wondering how much fallout this might cause among the group, and also being glad that there was time for the Holy Spirit to work on Ray’s heart before we returned. Of course we made this a special subject of prayer for the next two weeks. At our next meeting we were delighted that Ray returned, and the attendance had not dropped. We were also relieved that Ray sat quietly and paid close attention. About two months passed and Ray met us at the door. With a spirit of true repentance he apologized for his previous behavior and expressed that since his offence was public, he wanted to apologize publically so we agreed to call him up to the microphone.
After the song service was finished he made his way to the front and slowly began to speak in a subdued voice. “You all remember my remarks after Brother Brian talked about the change of the Sabbath a few weeks back,” he began, “well, I’ve been studying this thing out since then, and it’s true.” His voice became stronger. “These men know their bibles and history to!” Looking in our direction, he finished with a heartfelt apology and an endorsement that, “these men can be trusted.” Again I say, Praise God! Since that time Brother Beavers has received an accepted a call to Minnesota, and is already getting involved in prison ministry there. We miss him very much, but an active push and much prayer has yielded several new and capable volunteers. Recently while I was waiting at the prison for this group to complete their required training, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was there as an observer from the headquarters of the Department of Corrections (DOC). He was aware of all the different religious volunteer groups throughout most of the entire state, and enquired which denomination I was associated with. When I responded with Seventh-day Adventist, his face lit up. He told me that our services were making a more positive impact on the inmates than any other group, and he was very happy to hear that we were now conducting weekly services at this particular prison. Unlike most other groups there who teach that confession brings justification and grace forgives everything after that; we teach that after justification comes sanctification, a daily process of seeking God’s will and following it. This produces a turning away from sin which is seen in the inmates’ behavior and noted by the prison personnel. An obvious need began to rise up from the beginning of this ministry as we saw that many inmates did not have their own personal bibles. A friend or relative cannot bring or mail a bible to an inmate in a state correctional facility. Instead, the DOC requires that books of any kind must be new, and must be mailed directly from a publisher or book store. This has produced a “spin off” ministry we call Bibles 4 Prisoners. Yes, the prisons do provide bibles, but they are like library books. Inmates need their OWN personal bibles if they are going to study and grow in grace. We operate this endeavor on donations only, providing quality KJV bibles to any inmate in the continental US who requests one. We really believe this is a God ordained ministry because we always have just enough funds in our ministry bank account to fill the requests that come in. While this is somewhat nerve racking, it is also faith building. At first we provided bibles to the inmates at our services. Some were transferred to another prison, shared information to other inmates and we received requests from there. Then word somehow spread outside the state and we are receiving requests from as far away as Texas, and this newsletter will most likely produce requests from new areas. The vast majority of inmates will someday return to the general public. They could be YOUR neighbor! Would that be good news? Certainly if they are children of Christ, and an even better blessing would be to have them for neighbors in the kingdom of heaven. Inmates request bibles because they are seeking something (they often don’t know what), to fill their emptiness. The Bible is God’s love letter to the sin sick soul; won’t you help us provide these lost and weary souls the wonderful words of life?