New office location

The WELS prison ministry mailing center in New Ulm, Minn., recently moved across town to a small commercial building. Our two faithful administrative assistants along with many dedicated volunteers, continue to distribute Bible study booklets, pen pal letters, Bibles, and devotions to incarcerated individuals and prison chaplains throughout the United States. They are thankful for the safer, roomier quarters. To God be the glory as he continues to provide for this ministry as he has over these past 25 years.

Please note that our mailing address remains P.O. Box 452, New Ulm, MN 56073. Donations of Meditations devotion booklets that have not been written in, have no address labels, and are no more than a year old should now be dropped off in the storage shed near the rear entrance to the building (call 507-354-3130 for directions).

 

 

 

Ask and you will receive…

Give thanks and glory to God for his ability to bless us far beyond our ability to ask or imagine. Earlier this year we asked God and his people to provide the means necessary to continue this ministry at current levels because support had fallen to concerning levels. We are overjoyed to share that response to our request has been amazingly encouraging. For the month of April our gifts from individuals increased significantly in both the number of gifts and the total amount given compared to recent months. WELS Prison Ministry was also given a special invitation to request additional grant funding from the Marvin M. Schwan Charitable Foundation. Because of these additional funds, we anticipate ending our fiscal year on June 30 with a similar amount in our operating fund as when we began the fiscal year. In other words, our total funding for the fiscal year will be approximately equal to our expenses, despite having some significantly higher printing costs than normal this year. We now are focusing on how to sustain our funding at these higher levels so that our work can continue unhindered by financial constraints in the years to come.

Three ways to support our ministries

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests include: help us find ways to distribute God’s word electronically, especially where our booklets are not permitted; help us develop effective jail ministry and mentoring training; help us find a sustainable long-term funding plan.

Serve – All our ministry efforts are driven by volunteers motivated by Christ’s love. To volunteer as a pen pal or a test corrector, please contact us at prisonministry@wels.net or 507-354-3130. To explore jail visitation or post-release mentoring opportunities, e-mail
dave.hochmuth@wels.net or call 414-256-3243.

Give – Much of WELS Prison Ministry financial support comes from people like you. We need it to continue to share Jesus. To support this work:

Send your gift to:
WELS Prison Ministry
N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
Waukesha, WI 53188-1108
(Make checks payable to WELS Prison Ministry)

Donate online at wels.net/sm-donation, click on “Designation” and choose: “Prison Ministry.”

Give through your IRA charitable distribution, appreciated assets or your will or estate plan. Contact WELS Ministry of Christian Giving at
800-827-5482 for assistance.

In Christ,
WELS Prison Ministry Staff

 

 

Unexpected blessings

Matt Brown, a WELS pastor in Houston, Texas, shares how God used a recent visit with an inmate to bring about unexpected blessings.

Yesterday I almost did not go to the jail at my regularly scheduled time to visit inmates. I was with a family that was taking a loved one off of life support and felt it necessary to be with them during these hours. I spent time with the family in God’s Word until the doctors informed us their loved one would more than likely hang on a few more days.

After some hesitation, I headed to the jail in what became a driving rain storm, yet another seemingly credible reason to skip my visit. However, the Lord got me safely to my destination. Upon my arrival, the secretary handed me an inmate request. I immediately recognized the name. When I entered his cell in the infirmary, sure enough, it was he–the individual with whom I had started this jail ministry some 18 months prior. He had been arrested in the summer of 2017 and asked that I bail him out. I did not bail him out, but I did meet with him twice. Now here I was, visiting with him again. I shared a devotion with him about the day of Pentecost. I expressed to him that he was responsible, in a way, for the gospel coming to hundreds of souls in that jail. More specifically, my first visit with him opened the door that has since led to 300-400 personal law and gospel presentations as well as distribution of 300 devotion books from WELS Prison Ministry, 300 New Testaments, and thousands of WELS Spanish Bible studies. These resources are being used by all the chaplains in the jail.

I often forget how the Lord uses the little things we do in some big ways. Yesterday made me realize again that the Pentecost power of the gospel is working even when we don’t see it.

Thanks Matt! What a great reminder of the joyful blessings that come unexpectedly to us, to inmates, and to the whole body of Christ as we carry out his mission.

 

 

 

New Prison Ministry video and new Bible study booklet

New WELS Prison Ministry video to premier

There won’t exactly be a red carpet, but we are celebrating 25 years of God’s blessings to WELS Prison Ministry with a short video. Produced by Boettcher+Trinklein Television Inc., the video introduces a new generation to WELS Prison Ministry and the amazing opportunities we have to share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration. Filmed in April, the video shows the blessings Jesus gives to both those who serve in the ministry and those who are being served.

At press time we anticipate that the new video will be available for some of the summer conferences and conventions in our synod. The video will also introduce people who visit our website at wels.net/pm to Prison Ministry. Check our website periodically over the next few weeks. After the video appears, invite friends to learn more about this amazing ministry and explore ways in which they might become involved.

New Bible study booklet introduced

This spring WELS Prison Ministry announced an addition to our list of self-study courses: “Dealing with Depression and Anxiety.” The stress, loneliness, and discouragement of incarceration make depression a serious problem in jails and prisons. The six chapters in this book relate the real-life stories of men and women who have dealt with depression or anxiety, including an inmate and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. These stories testify to the power of Jesus Christ as a key to gaining the victory.

This is the 23rd “Level 1” booklet we have produced and make available free of charge to any inmate who requests it from an institution that will allow us to mail it to him or her. Thank you for your support, which enables our efforts to share Jesus in very practical ways with people impacted by incarceration.

 

 

A thanks to MLC students

Since its inception, Prison Ministries has relied on the gracious efforts of volunteers to help carry out the great commission. Part of this volunteer base is located at Martin Luther College where students gather to participate in the worthwhile spiritual care of those who find themselves in jail or prison. A major part of this ministry involves test correcting and encouraging. Inmates who request the Bible study booklets can complete the test included at the end of each booklet before advancing to the next one. While correcting these tests, the inclusion of positive remarks can uplift and strengthen the faith of the inmate. These MLC students graduate and can pass their enthusiasm and love for hurting souls on to members of their congregations, whether as called workers or laypersons. Thank you to those students who have given freely of their time to support this important outreach for the growth of God’s kingdom. May he bless these endeavors for the generations to come.

 

 

 

Love as I Have Loved You

Adapted from a devotion by WELS Congregational Services Director Jon Hein

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35 (NIV)

I sort of wish Jesus hadn’t said that. I would have preferred him to say, “If you are wearing a cross or if you go to church, everyone will know you are my disciple.” Though I know people who wear a cross or go to church and don’t follow Christ. Others think wearing a cross or attending church somehow makes them better than others. Instead, as a mark of discipleship, Jesus picked a task that is, in a sense, so easy even a three-year-old can do it. So easy. And yet…showing Christian love…also so, so, so hard.

What makes it so hard when Jesus asks us to love? A couple things. First, we know that in God’s eyes, love is more than an emotion—it is an action. Say I see a homeless man and, because I’m kindhearted, I feel bad for him. That kindly feeling does nothing to fill his belly.

That leads to a second reason why showing Christian love is so hard. We know the length to which God would have those actions go. The standard for love is Christ himself. And he is awfully loving. John chapter 13 begins with Jesus taking off all his outer clothing, wrapping a towel around his waist, pouring water into a large bowl, and—one-by-one—washing the disciples’ dirty feet. Man! You need help moving furniture in your office. I’m there. Your car needs a jump. I got the cables and am happy to help. Your feet stink. . . brothers and sisters, if I’m being honest, I might draw the line there. Not Jesus. Jesus’ love never draws lines. On the evening of that same Maundy Thursday, Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. He excused Judas to go and betray him. Jesus didn’t have any expectations that people would ever be as loving to him as he was to them. He just showed love, without expecting any payback.

In 1 Corinthians 13 Jesus says things like, “Love is patient; love is kind; love never fails; love keeps no record of wrongs.” To show the type of selfless, sacrificial love that Jesus showed . . . to demonstrate love that draws no lines, that knows no limits. . . that’s too much. When we think like that, we need to remember that Jesus does not say, “a new suggestion I give you.” He also does not say, “a new helpful tip I leave for you.” He says this is the will of the Lord and King that you love one another as I have loved you.

But here’s the thing with Jesus. . . every single time he asks us to do something, he also gives us the ability. Flawed and foolish humans sometimes ask the impossible. Your boss might demand that a task be completed by a certain day and time. And you may want to say, “Dude, unless you have the ability to magically make days have 30 hours instead of 24, there is no way that gets done on time.” Jesus is not flawed. He’s not foolish. When he asks us to do something, he gives us the power to do it.

Christian love gains an audience for the gospel. When unbelievers look at believers, they see a radical love within them. They experience it. They want to know more. It is going to take more than wearing a cross or going to church for others to see you are a disciple of Jesus. Think of the inmate who is convinced everyone has given up on them, or one who has recently been released and is struggling mightily to adapt. Has Christ empowered you to give a love that draws no lines and knows no limits to this person? God grant it among us all. Amen.

 

 

 

A Devotional Thought: Freedom

By Pastor Darren Green, Prison Committee Chairman

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free.”
Luke 4:18 (NIV)

Freedom! It is a word that describes all kinds of situations, cherished liberties, and emotions. However, the freedom we find in Jesus is one of the greatest gifts our God brings to us. Jesus came “to proclaim good news.” Guilt is one of the heaviest burdens that humans carry. I think of Doug, a man oppressed by his past. He had done his time and put his life together. Yet, as we talked about standing before God, Doug was troubled. I got the impression of him dragging a ball and chain of guilt along through his life. As we looked at Jesus’ words and promises, the good news, namely that Jesus came to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners” and “set the oppressed free,” became clear to Doug. His burden was lifted. With a smile on his face and a tingle up his spine, Doug heard Jesus free him and give him the peace that he needed. It almost seemed like Doug was floating on air. It gave me a renewed appreciation of the peace that only our Lord can give.

Take note of how often God speaks of taking away our guilt. The Lord said to Isaiah, “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for”(Isaiah 6:7). As you read Psalm 32, you can hear David’s struggle following his sin of adultery and murder. He bottled it up inside and it about destroyed him. After the Lord sought David out through Nathan, David breaths this freedom he finds from God: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).

What a compassionate and loving God we have that reaches down to us to make sure we hear that not only are our sins forgiven, but the guilt taken away. What a privilege we have to lead those imprisoned by their guilt to hear the voice of Jesus our Lord. Tell them they are freed in him! It is God’s Word and so God is speaking! Our God, the one we must stand before in judgment, says, “FREE!” The same Jesus that lived among us saw the oppression that sin and guilt brings. He desires that we live free as “new creations” and “ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

 

 

Joining Jesus on His Prison Mission

News about our efforts to share Jesus going forward

A recent book about sharing Jesus is titled “Joining Jesus on His Mission.” I like the emphasis on Jesus and the joy and blessings we receive by joining him in his work. Sharing Jesus is something we get to do as opposed to some duty. The senior citizens that started our prison ministry effort 25 years ago certainly had that attitude. They wanted to send the gospel where they couldn’t go. Since then WELS Prison Ministry focused primarily on that publication ministry, distributing well over a million copies of God’s Word to inmates, either in Bibles or Bible studies. This effort has been a great blessing to both inmates and volunteers, who helped with mailing, test correcting, or being pen pals.

At a strategic planning session last November, the Prison Ministry Committee (PMC) met to plan our efforts under the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The session produced many exciting ideas that we are asking God’s people to support with their time as volunteers, their financial gifts, or both. Here are some of the plans in which we’d like you to play a part.

Rebuilding the foundation

Usage of our publication ministry, housed in New Ulm, Minn., has slowed compared to years past. The PMC identified several steps needed to revitalize this foundational element of our efforts to share Jesus. Among these steps are tasks such as:

• Release a new Bible study on dealing with depression and anxiety
• Publicize this new study with both current and former users (chaplains and facilities)
• Evaluate historic usage patterns and target key facilities for personal contact
• Pray that the Holy Spirit opens both new and formerly open doors for our material

Publication Subcommittee lead Pastor David Rosenbaum emphasized the key role of this effort: “Bible self-study courses have been the centerpiece of Prison Ministry. We are adding new titles and editing those that need to be reprinted. Inmates have lots of time available, and we can provide an excellent way to fill their time and their souls simultaneously.”

Promoting more visits to personally share God’s Word

As a nationwide church body, many laypeople and called workers currently visit jails and prisons to share Jesus in person. In addition, there are many more who desire to take Jesus behind bars. We have helped with jail ministry training in the past, but the effort lacked long-term coordination and support. To enhance the efforts of God’s people, the PMC identified several tasks to undertake, including:

• Identify and track current jail and prison ministry efforts
• Identify and encourage Word and Sacrament ministry to all incarcerated WELS members
• Find ways to train people across the country for this ministry
• Build a support network so these efforts can benefit from each other’s experiences
• Find ways to encourage one another in our efforts.

PMC member Leon Brands, who is leading aspects of this effort, comments: “We are compiling information from congregations that have an active jail or prison ministry, so the PMC can support the volunteers with training and additional resources for ministering to inmates. We also want to identify all WELS members who are in jail or prison, so they can be served in person or given meaningful materials to remind them of their Savior’s boundless love.”

Assisting released inmates and their families

One of the greater needs that the PMC wishes to address is for assistance to inmates upon their release from jail or prison. Faith that is new or recently rekindled while serving time can be subjected to severe tests and powerful temptations not experienced behind bars. Returning citizens also have great earthly needs, such as finding housing, transportation, and employment when the deck is often stacked against them. Their families often need help adjusting to the former inmate’s return, including dealing with forgiveness and trust issues. Our efforts to meet this crying need with trained mentors include:

• Use a successful mentor program in New Ulm as a pilot program for similar efforts elsewhere
• Update mentor training material based on recent experience
• Develop reentry resources that can help mentors serve returning citizens better
• Develop resources to help congregations welcome and integrate these returning citizens.

PMC Treasurer Tom Koepsell, a current mentor, notes that “Inmates are often brought closer to their Savior behind bars and are enthusiastic to continue their journey upon release. With the spiritual guidance we can offer, and the love of Jesus we can show them, they can become valuable assets to our congregations and to their communities. Working one-on-one, my experience has been the stigma of being an ex-con goes away and a close Christian friendship takes its place. It can be a very rewarding experience.”

Finding your role

While all these plans are exciting, they only become a reality through the support and efforts of God’s people. Director of Special Ministries Jim Behringer reminds us: “Our Prison Ministry is an economical outreach ministry. We use many volunteers. Our books are inexpensive to print. Love for Jesus has moved hundreds of donors to have a huge impact! Yet our efforts to spread the gospel need generous financial support to train men and women to bring the gospel to those affected by incarceration.” About seventy percent of our budget comes from direct gifts from individual donors. Hand in hand with financial support is the ministry of hundreds of volunteers around the country. These gifts of treasure and time truly make a difference in the amount of work we can carry out. Without them, the ministry doesn’t happen. Come join Jesus on his mission to reach those impacted by incarceration.

 

 

Sixty Minutes Can Change a Life

I reached the third floor at the jail and was ushered into the room where our weekly session with the women took place. Filing into the room, two of the women asked rather disdainfully, “Are you going to talk to us about God?” Thankfully, the facilitator from the preceding week had
informed me about these women. Even though I was surprised by their tone of voice, the Holy Spirit guided my thoughts, words, and actions during the next 60 minutes. I did not enter the jail that day to feel good about myself. I came to share Jesus. So how did I respond? “Yes, we are going to talk about how much Jesus loves you.”

The two women expressed doubt that God cared about them because of the many tragedies that had occurred in their lives. So I shared how God had sustained my husband and me during the loss of our first child, a stillborn. Suddenly they began to listen, and the Holy Spirit went to work. One of the two women returned for several more sessions. During the third session she confided that she had been reading about Jesus in the booklets we distributed and that she wanted to learn more. God’s Word had opened her heart.

Jesus challenges and stretches us. He presents us with opportunities to serve him by serving others. He commands us to love, welcome, and embrace one another even when the individuals we serve may be difficult, ungrateful, or unable to Jesus challenges and stretches us. He presents us with opportunities to serve him by serving others. reciprocate. It’s true–much of even our Christian service can be self-centered and gravitate toward individuals who can assist, uplift, or give us something in return. But Jesus lovingly reminds us, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

Where do we go with this self-centered attitude? The answer is to the cross. There we discover a Savior who loved us for what he could give to us–not for what he could get from us. What we do by faith in Jesus to help others (without thoughts of looking good or gaining glory for ourselves) is a blessing. Our lives have been transformed through Jesus life, death, and resurrection. Our motivation to thank Jesus is rooted in his love for us.

I witness it week after week. These women enter the room with questioning and skeptical attitudes. Sometimes they are resolute or reticent. Yet by the end of the session, their body language, facial expressions, and comments display hope and peace. Just as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “. . . so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” The word changes hearts and lives.

Why do I look forward to facilitating sessions at the jail? Psalm 71:15 expresses it best: “My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds and your saving acts all day long–though I do not know how to relate them all” (Psalm 71:15). Doing so has challenged and stretched me. My faith has blossomed and grown through this opportunity to serve other women who are facing challenges with addictions, relationships, guilt, and forgiveness. What a blessing and a privilege it is to meet with these women and share truths from the Bible. My Savior rescued me, and now I get double the joy by sharing that unfathomable love with others.

Mary Hochmuth leads Facing Freedom at Dane County Women’s Jail, Madison, Wis., for our partner Institutional Ministries

 

 

Remember us with prayers, service, and gifts

We trust that God will move the hearts of His people to support our ministry in any way possible. Please pray that Prison Ministry would continue to share Jesus with more people impacted by incarceration. To volunteer as a pen pal or a test corrector, please contact us at pmsec@wels.net or 507-354-3130. To explore visitation or mentoring opportunities, e-mail dave.hochmuth@wels.net or call 414-256-3243.

WELS Prison Ministry now receives a small subsidy from our synod. We continue to write grant requests in hopes of receiving money for funding operational costs, printing books, and traveling to promote and train new volunteers for visitation or mentoring ministry. But most of our financial support comes from people like you. If you desire to support this work, please send your gift to:

WELS Prison Ministry
N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
Waukesha, WI 53188-1088

Or donate online at wels.net/sm-donation, click on “Designation” and choose: “Prison Ministry.”

Important note for Thrivent members: Anyone who is a member of Thrivent Financial can direct personal Choice Dollars to WELS Prison Ministry. If you need assistance with this designation, contact Thrivent Member Care Services at 800-847-4836. The designation for 2018 must be made by March 31, 2019.

May the Lord continue to bless you as you serve Him.

In Christ,
WELS Prison Ministry Staff Prison