Evangelism Report: Prison MinistrySeries: Evangelism Report
My work in the prisons continues to be a mix of blessings and frustrations. Much of the frustration is due to the prisons themselves and how they have hampered my work these past months. Combinations of unhelpful chaplains, lock-downs, changes in personnel and other minor details continue to chip away at the work that can be done. I realize some of this just comes and goes in cycles but it is always discouraging to know that more could be done with the time available 'if only...'. There continue to be however, every day, little victories and seeds being planted in men's hearts and for this I remain encouraged to continue.
Mayo CI had undergone a major change as I mentioned in my last report. There have been improvements in opportunities, but it still is going more slowly than I had hoped. At RMC Main, it is just frustrating dealing with the system and a lack of concern for the programs. I have been promised that big changes are coming but it has already been about 3 months since promised. If they do, I will once again have ready access to many men (who are seeking) as they enter into the prison system. I know from past experience that many of these men were more likely to check out one of my classes at another prison if they heard me as they passed through RMC. I try to be patient and it's always hard to discern when it's wiser to just move on from a particular prison. At RMC West (because of these same policies and the retirement of a chaplain that was very helpful to our work) it also has slowed down quite a bit. But, because we have a lot of influence at this prison, I'm going to keep plugging along and hope that the promised changes actually happen. Instead of a class of 40-60 each week, I might get between 3 and 15 most weeks with only a very rare large group. In some ways these smaller groups can have more benefit for a few individuals as they are able to ask specific questions, but these classes are intended to be for large groups and to create interest in God's word and Jesus' life. At RMC work camp, due to several factors, the policies don't affect this class. I continue to have a good group and had another 3 baptisms in March. One of the men that was so helpful in reinforcing our teaching left at the end of last year and so there are fewer men seeking to be baptized (over 20 men were baptized in the past 2 years and much of the credit goes to men within the prison that reinforce and encourage). Another man, Tim, who has matured much over the past 4 years ended up leading the PAL program for more than 2 years over at the West Unit. He was forced out about the same time I was last year because of our doctrinal convictions and the influence we were having on the group as a whole. He is now at the work camp and I'm hoping he can help fill in some of the gap (He is scheduled to go to Daryl Townsend's transition house in the fall). It is so helpful to have men on the inside that are able to encourage those who are studying or newly converted.
At Lawtey, there have been fewer baptisms also (only 4 this past 3 months). I mentioned in my last report that a lot of the more mature men that had been there were either transferred or released. A few of those that were released are doing well on the outside. There are fewer inside who are now able to encourage the others -perhaps between 10 to 20. There are many in the classes and are growing but fewer right now who are actively encouraging others. One who is still left (Brian) is working on a plan to make sure that all the new men hear about our classes as they are going through their orientation class. This would make them aware of what we offer and have the ability to influence them as soon as they arrive. I have had a series of private studies/conversations lately with men at this prison that I believe have been productive. These opportunities are very important but time-consuming. My class on “internal evidences” continues to be one of my favorites and lately I've been spending much more time on evidences surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. I've developed more than ten lessons for this class to show why history can't be explained without Jesus having been raised from the dead. My Intelligent Design class is about 2/3 finished and there are still between 25-30 men attending. The Character and Integrity class is now in its 2nd cycle and each time the list of men has fallen off dramatically. I have about 6 men that regularly attend and in some ways it has turned into a better and more personal class because of it.
The chaplain at Lawtey who has been so helpful these past few years will be leaving soon and we are praying for a replacement that will allow us to continue our work w/o much interference and maybe even one who is helpful. We've been teaching at Lawtey for so long that we will be continuing no matter who is brought in but the chaplains still can greatly facilitate our work or hinder it.
My classes on Tuesday evening have been going well. Steve is busy but doing what he can to make time for our study. Bill was baptized at the beginning of the year as I mentioned in my last report. He has been doing very well but has been preoccupied with taking care of his sister (who has recently become partially paralyzed due to complications from a brain aneurysm. He just moved in with his sister so that his niece can continue working full-time. He had been talking regularly with another sister who trucks around the country with her husband. They were planning a visit to see her sister in the hospital and Bill encouraged her to take some time out to have a study with me. He let me know that he'd been talking with her since he got out and that she was asking about baptism. We talked about the seriousness of the commitment and how to obey the gospel. She was baptized a few hours later.
Because I had been away on my trip and he has been taking care of his sister, I hadn't seen him in over a month so I asked him if he wanted a visit. He let me know the other sister was in town and so I headed out to see everyone. Bill is doing a very good job of taking care of his sister and he also is trying to influence them spiritually. It was a very encouraging visit with them. It is obvious that he is having a good influence on them. I've forwarded Bill's contact info to a small congregation near where his sister lives and am hoping he will be able to start attending there.
Another man that I had mentioned in my last report had also gotten out the end of last year and was doing fairly well. I just got a call a few weeks ago from him letting me know that he had fallen again into his drug addiction but that he is back on track. I went down to visit with him and his family and the brethren that he grew up around. They were very supportive of him even though it is very hard to have to deal with someone who has struggled with addiction for over 20 years.
In regards to our congregation, two men I mentioned in my last report that came out of prison and are worshiping with us are still doing well -Denver and Robert. We have had 3-4 men coming from a local prison work release center each Sunday (Robert, Bill and Denver all had been there; all baptized and doing well). This past Sunday we just learned that there might now be up to 6 men that put in requests to come. We will now have to have more than one person picking them up as we won't be able to fit them into one car. Several people in our congregation are filling out the necessary paperwork to help with the rides.
I had promised my son, Jonathan, a trip to some geological sites out west and we ended up going to Iceland [See picture above of one of the many beautiful sites we were able to visit]. The trip was wonderful. We managed to get cheap flights and car rental; sleeping in the car and eating simply to avoid most of the expenses. Many beautiful waterfalls, mountains, ocean views, volcanoes and much more. We spent time with a few women who are indirectly connected with either the 'International church' or some group that had spun off of it. I was able to encourage them of the importance of seeing how the whole Bible fits together and gives us confidence of its trustworthiness. Our trip was relaxing for me. It was nice to be able to spend some time with my son as he is almost to the age that he will be moving out and moving on with his own life. I've heard so many before me say how quickly time flies but it certainly has been true for me as well. We had a lot of delightful opportunities to collect rocks and brought home many samples. Much opportunity for just taking short hikes each day and enjoying some really nice scenery. We even got to experience snow on several days and make a snowman. Having spent the past 18 years in Belize and Florida has made me nostalgic for snow. I'm thankful however that I don't have to 'enjoy' it for 3-4 months each year. In order to fly to Iceland, we first drove up to Boston. Kris and our other son Samuel then flew up a week later and we spent a week visiting with family and friends. Our daughter Katie also flew up for a few days. It had been over two years since we were able to go visit family and brethren in RI and it was a much-needed break.
We had taken many pictures and the men in the prisons wanted to know how my trip went so I printed out a few pages and let them pass them around. Many of the men are very eager to hear about anything that goes on of interest outside the prison. While I was away, there were several men willing to cover some of my classes. LJ, Robert, John, Lee and Jerry all helped cover a good portion of my classes. This allows the inmates to get some new perspectives and helps brethren to get a taste for the benefits of teaching in the prisons. A few of the inmates I have known for a while made sure some videos related to a few of my other classes were shown for the 2-3 weeks I was away so that my classes for the most part continued. It made it easier to leave and to enjoy the break. Thanks again for all the brethren who help make this work possible. I especially thank our God for giving me the opportunity to share such great wisdom and life-giving news to so many who are in a very dark world.
A sharer of God's message of love and holiness,