September 18, 2016
Sunday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #453: A Rekindled Friendship—and New Friends!
I’ve known a certain family for more than two decades, four states, and plenty of crazy shared experiences. We have many of the same friends, we worked at the same ministry (albeit in different years), and we have a surprising number of shared interests. The main reason we are such close friends is that we have the same heart for God.
Just after the first of the year, these dear friends wrote, reconnecting with me and getting me caught up on what God has done in their lives. We exchanged letters over the next several months and grew close once again.
My selfish ways before prison isolated me from many dear friends. However, many of those friends, including many of you who are reading these words, have chosen to invest time and energy to come back into my life. Thank you!
At their weekly Bible study, which meets at their home, these asked for prayer for me and for the various ministries I’m involved in here. From that point, the members of the study, called a Community Group, have faithfully prayed for me and the body of believers at Golden State prison. In fact, they have asked me for specific prayer requests and have followed up on those requests, letting me know they are lifting up our requests to God.
Additionally, they expressed an interest in sending sermon CDs from their weekly church services. I said I’d figure out how to receive them.
For starters, I knew that inmates are allowed to possess up to ten CDs and ten books, and since this prison lost all of my CDs when I transferred here, I could receive up to ten. My sweet friends, alongside another dear friend of mine with a ministry mindset who sent me Christian books, sent me Christian music CDs and sermon recordings, quickly filling up my quota.
I immediately began sharing the books and CDs with those around me, establishing a resource center of sorts under Art’s bunk. Beautiful family-centered Christian music combined with excellent teachings from the book of James to bless many guys, and the books—many, the stories of great Christian men and women—challenged our faith. Hearing about how much we had been blessed by the initial gifts of resources, my friends’ church asked if we could use additional books or CDs or anything else.
As it became apparent that God was opening a door for our church to be blessed by theirs, I wrote a lengthy letter of introduction to the elders at their home church in Virginia, explaining what this prison is like, what ministry opportunities exist here currently, and what I saw as possible ways we could partner up to bless their church in return. I explained that I was just helping our elder board by interfacing with their church and that our church’s Doctrinal Statement and Mission Statement would be forthcoming.
I may not have a ton of prison experience, but I do know that, aside from some churches sending in volunteers to lead services at some prisons, prison/church partnerships don’t exist. Outreach to prisoners is done by dedicated prison ministries, most of whom were started by ex-felons or families of felons and by the occasional mega-church that prints a special booklet or devotional for inmates.
I don’t know of any concerted effort made by a church congregation to “adopt” a prison-church, though such arrangements may indeed exist. Our elders were excited about the possibility for our church and asked me to draw up the Mission Statement, while one of the elders wrote up the Doctrinal Statement. Both documents were endorsed by the elder board and sent off to their church.
I asked our chaplain if books and CDs could be sent to him to then distribute to inmates, but he sounded exasperated by the “hassle” it was for him to manage resources. I offered to assist him by organizing his office and creating a system for lending out any materials received (and for finding papers he seemed so good at losing). He said no, that he hadn’t been “authorized” to have an assistant, though the warden had suggested he get himself one. I decided it would be easier to work around the chaplain rather than try to figure him out.
I made an announcement in church and got volunteers to receive books and CDs for us all to share and then asked my friends’ church for some specific business books, along with Christian resource materials. The church graciously sent us dozens of books, including some that were designated as gifts for particular members of our leadership team: One guy who has recently begun his studies in the Word received a beautiful Hebrew-Greek Study Bible. Another elder who paroles in a few months received books that provided instruction about two types of computer languages he’ll need to master in order to be equipped to succeed in a job he’s been offered upon release. Daniel, our church’s worship leader and a budding songwriter, received a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary as resources to help him as he writes worship music. These books have changed these men’s lives.
Recently, I’ve had the joy and privilege of calling in to the Community Group’s Bible study and expressing our gratefulness for the many ways their church is showing Christ’s love to us. Already, a change is evident in so many guys who would rather hear that the church in their neighborhood is rejecting them than to have to face the overwhelmingness of such unexpected love. To know that someone who has never met you loves you deeply, cares for you deeply? That is profound.
I thank God for this dear family and those of you who, like them, lift us up in prayer and share what God is doing here with others. God is using you to impact lives!
Golden State Unity Church
- Save • Strengthen • Serve • Send
We Save the Lost through Evangelism
We love in such a way that we bring the lost to God.
I Timothy 4:14–16: “Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received … . Keep a close watch on how you live … . Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.” (NLT)
We Strengthen the Saints through Discipleship
We learn in such a way that we grow in our walk with God.
II Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly diving the word of truth.” (NKJV)
We Serve the Lord through Ministry
We live in such a way that we practice our service for God.
Romans 12:11–13: “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. … Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them … . Practice hospitality.” (NLT)
We Send the Equipped to Their Calling
We leave in such a way that we impact our families and communities for God.
Ephesians 4:1: “I … beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other … because of your love. … [K]eep yourselves united in the Spirit … . For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.” (NLT)