Crucial to a life in Christ for the new believer after a period of incarceration rests in one’s adoption by a supportive Christian church family. This connection provides them with a sense of belonging and inclusion into society. The crux of Jesus’ final commandment is love shared between Christian brothers and sisters. Once an inmate experiences prison life and the resulting societal rejection; any sense of spiritual connection becomes jeopardized. Feeling the full onslaught of daily pressures, coupled by the roadblocks put up by their reduced legal and citizenry status allows openings for old desperate habits to surface. Feeling love within a church family can remind the new Christian that God especially loves them.
1 Cor 12:22
In fact some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as least honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts which should not be seen while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
I got a call today from a woman I have discipled since Feb of this year. Upon release from TDC she was placed on probation and they required, no matter what support she had elsewhere, within a new church and Christian family, to return to her county of offense and transfer after obtaining $1000 through employment. She could not accept a job in another area of the state without first meeting this requirement. Her probation officer also required her to "reside" at a predetermined "halfway house" that currently allows for 5 minutes of prayer/church time a day. She can attend a church which they have chosen that lasts less than 10 minutes.
As we spoke today, I could hear her plea for help and support. We talked about where she had been and how her time there must never be forgotten. She passionately talked about her battle to remember where she was just two short weeks ago. She has already seen a roommate relapse. She's already heard most of her "bunkies" moan about getting up at 6:30 AM; she gave a lecture to them about what time they were all required to wake in prison (3:30 AM if they wanted clean clothing for the day). She's already in the battle of her life in the program that the County is requiring she walk through and it has nothing to do with her new walk with Christ, her new status as a daughter of the most High God or her new determination to be a Godly woman after God's own heart.
I would like to say that I seldom get riled up about "the system" to the point of wanting to take action and it's a tough system to really battle but when I hear the pleas of one having no one else, no family or old friends who would support her decision to walk a new life and she truly is struggling to remain faithful to her prayer time and study time in God's word, how can I not speak out.
Not every woman who walks out from behind the bars of a county or state facility have the luxury as I did; to stay with a woman who wanted nothing more than to see me grow in faith and my relationship with Jesus Christ. I was blessed and I remember to this day that wonderful gift of time to help form in me a new creation; a new woman.
Every believer is a part of "the church" and every believer has some obligation to offer forgiveness and opportunity. The longer I work in prison ministry, the more I realize that there are plenty of ways to serve in prison ministry at arms length if that is all one can feel comfortable doing.
As we start 2011 in just a few days, I thought I would help you with a list of things to consider:
* call your local larger employers and advocate for "second chance" employment opportunities
* find out about employer tax credits and bonding programs available for those offering ex-offenders the opportunity for employment
* consider business opportunities for yourself where you might be able to build an ex-offender friendly environment
* help educate employers about the challenges faced by new releasees including probation and parole meetings, AA and other 12 step meetings and other requirements placed upon the ex-offender
* talk to your local ministries serving this population and find out where the struggles remain
* educate yourself about the ways ministries struggle to offer all the services needed and the agencies that might best coordinate and work cooperatively with these ministries, then find out who you know who might work at such agencies; help make connections within the body of Christ
* talk to your church family about locating those in the congregation who can and are willing to offer their professional services to someone coming out of prison; medical, dental or legal assistance as a ministry function
* encourage your church to take on a prison ministry as a mission field
* embrace the few men and women who may enter your church who have served time, they are reaching out to see and feel God's love; remember that you might be the only glimpse outside the cell doors they see of Him
* donate clothing, food, grocery and super store gift cards, hygiene products, writing materials, journals, stamps and envelopes, calling cards and study materials to your local housing ministries including women's prison ministries
* consider "sponsoring" a woman's entrance into a halfway house or transitional housing program (usually $200-300)
* call your County officials and get involved with their reintegration planning in your local area; they have a state mandate to have a program in place
*get educated about your local community; how many ex offenders are being released back into your county and home town so you are aware of the needs
* finally, pray, each and every day that a new child in Christ coming back out into the free world can and does find what they need to succeed.
Make a choice that 2011 is the year you get involved, get excited about Christ and the changes he makes in the lives of those behind bars. Remember that most of the individuals currently serving time WILL see the light of day. Most come out wanting to change but few have the support, coping skills or new tools to make it.
As true believers, you know Christ today works in the lives of ALL his children! He is working inside some dark places that many of you will never see or know about. He is alive and well inside the county jails and prisons; changing the hearts and lives of many hurting women inside and those leaving. He is stirring the desires for change in them and perhaps even in you as you read this!
We know this! But we also know that what brought many to their time of incarceration is a powerful force that preys on the weak and without God and prayer, the darkness easily can take over. Don't let it. Love your new sister in Christ as you meet her or help those who are working hard to serve in this unique mission field. Just take action.
Tomorrow I'll be making phone calls and writing letters to insure that those who are working with my friend get a full picture of her support network she will have when she can make it to our ministry housing. Tonight I will lift her in prayer.
God bless you all as you look to 2011 with hope and faith; as you reach out to God to show you how best to serve His Kingdom and how best to walk out your love for Him and His children.