8 Lessons Learned About Setting Prisoners Free
I never thought I would be going back into prison. Feeling prompted to serve in prison ministry, the first thing I did was share that I felt God calling me with other Christians. This is where God led people to offer me direction and pray along with me. Through others, God connected me with an ongoing prison ministry in my area.
The First Steps: By joining an already active prison ministry, they were able to walk me thru the approval process which includes:
- Contacting the prison system for your state to fill out the volunteer application.
- Attend the required training, which in Texas is a 3-4 hour class. It is held at a prison to make you aware of the rules and protocol within their prison.
- If no current prison ministry is available; get in touch with the prison Chaplain for the prison closest to you. Most Chaplains are very excited to have volunteers come in and host/facilitate a class/study.
The Lessons Learned: After doing this for over three years, here are eight lessons I've learned:
- Trust God completely to pave the way. He will go before you, with you and after you.
- Stay Consistent in ministry. Many people in custody have yet to experience consistency in a positive way. The more consistent you are, the better response you will have. They need to know you are there, and will be back. Critically important is to never stray from the institution's rules or your own. If you state that homework has to be done to graduate, then make sure to check it and abide by that rule. All rules must be consistently followed. Inmates thrive on being able to "work the system," so you must not allow them to "work you."
- Be Authentic in relationships. We must teach with 100% realness as any type of "fake" will be seen immediately and then respect will be lost. As people in ministry, God has sent us not because we are perfect or even good. Through our weaknesses and imperfections, God can be shown perfect and full of the strength that we need to live. Be exactly who you are and trust God to use that for His glory.
- Love them fully. Open your hearts to love them as God has loved you. Some things you hear are tough and can tempt you to judge them. Loving them through the unpleasantness is not just key, but also affords you the blessing of serving the Lord as He serves us through our unpleasantness.
- Give glory to God through your teaching. Inmates can become infatuated with their Bible study leader/mentor. This can be dangerous to you as a servant and to the inmate. They need to know and be reminded often that God has sent you in there, that God keeps you coming back, and it is God that wants a relationship with them. God gives them joy, hope, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. We are simply the servers that bring the message, not the author.
- Stay humble before the inmates. Inmates can lift you up to a status in their eyes that you have neither earned nor deserve. Remain true to God and do not allow their gratitude to feed your ego. Constantly point them back to God.
- Direct to others for aftercare. There are many needs within those walls. Trust God to fill their needs in His time and in His ways. Of course I have wanted to help all these women, but God has instructed me that I am the server, delivering His word, not the cashier. Staying within that calling has afforded me more blessings than I can count. It has afforded the women He sent me to the same blessings. God provides for their needs, not me.
- Ask for prayer warriors to join you as you go. Allow God to speak to you through friends and strangers.
- Using Me, Myself and Lies study, God placed 12 women in the first class. A year later attendance maxed out to 102 for the sessions! This is a great study and a great way to show you that staying within your calling is where Glory is revealed.
- I began by joining an ongoing prison ministry. Since then that ministry dissolved, but God's calling on me didn't, so I just keep going. I have no official name, just me obeying God. By including other prayer warriors, every physical need for books and supplies has been met.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and together we will find an answer.
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Lisa Stone is a believer, a wife, and a mom of four. After being pulled from the pit of my bad decisions and disobedience, God redeemed me and has called me back into "my pit" to pull others from the fire, by introducing them to Him and being an example of His grace for them to see. Contact Lisa at email@example.com.
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