What? How can you say that? Virus fears. Civil unrest. Violence. Economic uncertainty. Lost celebrations. And the list goes on. But what if we view this year through the eyes of faith? Consider Old Testament Joseph. After being sold into slavery by his older brothers and later spending years in prison on a false charge, he could still forgive his brothers because he saw that “You [his brothers] intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20, NIV84. Note how Joseph praises God not for the good that came to him personally, though surely Joseph was thankful for that, but for the good that came to others through his suffering.
Can we adopt that same attitude? With the Spirit’s help, absolutely. In Philippians 2, the apostle Paul encourages us to have the same attitude as Jesus, whose suffering accomplished the greatest good of all, the rescue of the world from guilt for an eternity of untainted joy. And as Paul encouraged the Roman Christians, so he encourages us: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28, NIV84 Note that the good God is working for in “all things,” even bad things, may be someone else’s good, not ours. Our patient, even cheerful endurance of painful trials may give us an opportunity to give a reason for the hope that we have. God can use that testimony to lead others to place their trust in Jesus.
So, what does all this mean for prison ministry in 2020? Let’s see it as an opportunity rather than a disaster. God is already in every one of our tomorrows and knows exactly what good he is doing through all of this. Let’s redouble our efforts to reach God’s lost sheep with our prayers, our volunteer time, and our financial gifts. Here are three encouragements to do so.
First, thanks to the extra efforts of our New Ulm Mailing Center staff and volunteers, we’ve been able to maintain our ministry-by-mail efforts safely (Bible study booklets and pen pal letters) with little adverse impact from the measures implemented to combat the pandemic. God’s Word continues to go where he sends it and is not returning empty.
Second, the Prison Ministry Committee authorized an outreach effort to reconnect with thousands of facilities that have not recently submitted book orders or tests. In this time of limited personal visits to inmates, we wanted to offer our ministry-by-mail as an alternate way to encourage and support inmates. We pray God richly blesses this effort, which would generate a much greater need for test corrector and pen pal volunteers, as well as booklet inventory replacement.
Finally, amid the anxiety around us, let us celebrate the joy that both giver and receiver of our ministry efforts experience. That joy is clearly captured in an inmate’s poem based on the widow’s gift at the temple (Luke 21:1-4):
With Willing Heart
As poor widow of long ago
Gave all to do your work;
So too open my heart dear Lord,
Willing to give and to serve.
Make my heart always generous,
Noble as hers that day;
Trusting fully in your promise,
Every need taken care.
As I receive your blessings,
Let first be given to you;
Not with grudging heart,
But with joy unmeasured.
(Inmate Lawrence Palubecki)
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