“Don’t Run Away From the Lord”

The first time I met “Darren” at the jail our conversation was brief. I introduced myself as Chaplain Brown. He gave me his name and that was about it. I had trouble understanding him because he had been shot in the neck and his voice was weak. I said, “God bless your day and see you next Wednesday.”

The next few weeks every time I went past his bed, Darren was sleeping. His blanket was pulled over his head, which was the norm for prisoners trying to sleep in the brightly lit room. A few times I caught Darren in the middle of a meal as he or a nurse were pouring liquid nutrition into his feeding tube. After his gunshot wound he could no longer swallow. Everything went through that tube.

I looked for Darren weekly and eventually our conversations got longer and centered on Jesus and all he said and did for us. Darren confessed his trust in Jesus and his interest in the Bible grew, especially Bible history. Moses, Joshua, and David intrigued him. One day I gave Darren a Bible study on the book of Jonah. He told me he would answer the questions and we would talk about it the next week.

The next week we went through the story and came to the question that read, “Have you ever run away from God the way Jonah did?” He answered “yes” and I asked him to tell about it, expecting to hear a little about what landed him jail. Instead, he told me how he used to see me coming and knew that I would talk to him about God’s Word, so he pulled his blanket over his head and pretended he was sleeping. That was his way of running away from the Lord. We both had a good laugh and then he assured me that he is not running any longer.

There are still times that I get to the jail and Darren is sleeping, but he is no longer running away. When he is awake, we talk about God’s Word. We laugh when I talk about what I am having for lunch while he gets liquids. We talk about heaven and being able to enjoy the best of meats and the finest of wines (Isaiah 25).

And now, he is quick to pull other inmates into our conversations or direct me to others who need to hear God’s Word. Like Jonah, this reluctant inmate has now become God’s missionary in the jail. He is not running away from the Lord, he is running in the paths of his commands because he knows God has set his heart free.

Pastor Matt Brown, Chaplain at the Harris County Jail, Houston, Tex.

 

 

Book Review: The Executioner’s Redemption

Author Timothy Carter, now a pastor for the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, documents his fascinating journey from a confused, self-righteous, often violent correctional officer to a redeemed child of God who struggled with how to serve his Savior in a challenging environment. Along the way, Tim served on the Texas “death squad,” personally filling various roles during more than 150 executions by lethal injection.

Seeking a way to pay for his college expenses, Tim Carter began working as a correctional officer in Huntsville, Tex. He often experienced various conflicting influences in this antagonistic environment. While believing he was a part of the war against evil criminals and an agent of God’s wrath, Carter used physical force and hate to help maintain order. Then the moment arrived when he considered what he had become, and he didn’t like it. Dr. Beto, a criminology professor at Sam Houston State University, advised him to consider the words of Jesus found in Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Over the next two decades, Carter sought ways to implement these words by dying to self and walking humbly before the Lord.

After being appointed to the death squad, he carefully considered how inmates, victims, and the families of both were affected by the suffering caused by sin and evil in the world. Moreover, Carter grappled with his own uncertainties regarding God’s will for government executions. A spiritual struggle of justice versus mercy followed. Carter realized that he couldn’t fix troubled people, but God could. He witnessed this firsthand with an inmate named Karla Faye Tucker, who spent time on death row after committing an extremely brutal double murder. When she first entered the prison, she was unrepentant, manipulative, and defiant. However, after the gospel permeated her heart, she became one of God’s sheep. The peace of God emanated from her countenance before, during, and after her execution. Her life and example left a lasting impression on Carter and many others.

During his years on the death squad, Carter witnessed many profound spiritual battles where the devil sought to destroy lives created by God. He observed death row prisoners cling to God’s promises after prison ministry volunteers visited and shared Scripture with them. The patience and love these volunteers showed for the condemned prompted Carter to reexamine his role in the lives of those with whom he came into contact. He realized not only was he an agent of protection, but he was a conduit for God’s love. By praying for the condemned, the victims, and their families during the execution proceedings, God used Carter to convey his peace. He came to understand that sin is the problem. Jesus is the answer. When particularly difficult circumstances arose, he drew the conclusion that things went awry if he focused on his own authority and on the earthly kingdom. However, when he focused on Jesus’ authority and his kingdom, circumstances fell into line as they should.

After ending his career as one who wielded the sword of the state, Timothy Carter wrestled with the idea of becoming one who wielded the sword of the spirit. After attending and completing seminary studies, he was called as the Care Ministry Pastor in his home congregation of Tomball, Tex., where he ministers to individuals in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice care. In addition, he frequently visits the incarcerated from his own congregation. It is no coincidence that he serves those who are suffering or near death in his current career just as he did while employed at the penitentiary. While conducting one-on-one counseling in prisons, speaking at high schools and church youth gatherings, he relays experiences he encountered as a correctional officer, applying Scriptural truths. Believing the only answer to man’s broken relationship with God is faith in his son’s redeeming work on the cross, Carter hopes that many will join “to honor God’s provisions for protecting his sheep while loving the wolves.”

For any reader, Pastor Carter relates a journey first to faith and then in faith that clearly shows the power of God’s Word, both law and gospel. His struggle to live his faith and his recognition of how God was using him, even in seemingly small ways, encourage us to seek and act on those opportunities in our own lives. He provides vivid insight into prison life that will help any volunteer better understand the souls we seek to reach and their environment. Ultimately, the book is a powerful testimony to Christ’s saving love regardless of which side of the bars the soul is on.

 

 

 

Corrector’s Corner – Spring 2020

Volunteer test correctors are vital to our correspondence course ministry. Inmates submit about 10,000 tests for correction each year. More than 120 currently active correctors scattered all over the United States help us respond to each submitted test. If you’re interested in exploring this role, please contact our New Ulm office (pmsec@wels.net or 507-354-3130).

Thank you faithful test correctors, whether you have been correcting for many years or are just receiving your first packet. Please remember to:

  • Correct and return tests within two weeks. Returning corrected tests quickly helps us build trust with our “students.” Inmates are eager to receive their tests and completion certificates. We assure them that we have a process:
    • The same day we receive a test, the inmate is sent a new booklet and the test is sent to a corrector.
    • The Tuesday after we receive the test from the corrector, our in-house-volunteers hand-write certificates and mail them back to the inmate with their final corrected test.
  • Many inmates are moved without notice. Quickly returning the tests reduces the expense of returned tests/certificates and the time it takes to try to find inmates once they’ve been moved.
  • Contact our New Ulm office if you are on vacation or other commitments come up so we can put your name on hold.

 

 

 

Thanks . . . And pray for more of God’s blessings

WELS Prison Ministry operates on a fiscal year that runs from July to the following June. We’ve known this fiscal year would be challenging because the foundations that have generously supported us recently ($125,000 in the previous fiscal year) may provide much less or no grant funds this year. Yet God in his wisdom has found another way to supply some of our ministry needs. The WELS Ministry for Christian Giving allowed us to be the focus of their general appeal for financial support in December. This was timely because WELS Prison Ministry was also featured in the December edition of the WELS Connection video newsletter. As of the end of February, giving in response to this appeal has provided over $45,000 in gifts from brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank the Lord for what he provides through generous people like you.

Join us in fervent prayer for God to guide us to additional sources of support for this vital, fruitful, and joyful work. We are seeking ways to reach out to both new and existing givers, including individuals and foundations, to help support our work. If you know of any foundations or organizations that may be interested in helping us share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration, please pass that information on to Prison Ministry Administrator Dave Hochmuth at 414-256-3243 or dave.hochmuth@wels.net. If the Lord has blessed you recently and you would like to share a portion of those blessings with us, we would be humbly grateful for your support and trust.

  1. 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; send the Holy Spirit to bless the Word and the inmates who are reading it; bless our current efforts to train more volunteers for inmate visitation and mentoring.
  2. 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, call 414-256-3243 or e-mail dave.hochmuth@wels.net.
  3. Give – While the recent appeal from the WELS Ministry of Christian giving was helpful, needed ongoing support comes from people like you. To support our efforts to share Jesus:
  • 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.
  • Direct your Thrivent Choice dollars (if you are a Thrivent member) to WELS Prison Ministry. Contact Thrivent Member Care Services at 800-847-4836 for assistance. Your 2019 designation is due by March 31, 2020.

 

 

 

Her Many Sins Have Been Forgiven; That is Why She Loved so Much

“Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that is why she loved so much. But the one who is forgiven little loves little.” (EHV Lk 7:47). Jesus said these words after a woman, who is simply described as sinful, showed Jesus love by cleaning his feet with her tears and her hair. Whereas the master of the house, a Pharisee, did not show any such love to Jesus. Truly, those who have been forgiven much do love much. That love shows itself in many different ways, but I got to see this love in action recently – in prison of all places.

It started when Wanda Markland began her new job as warden of the Women’s Prison in Pierre, S.D., about a year ago. Warden Markland has done many good things for the prison, perhaps the most impactful was bringing WELS Prison Ministry materials to the women’s prison. Besides some books being available to read at the prison’s library, many of them are available to be taken for free by the inmates. That is, if they get there fast enough. Amanda Kaur, an inmate who works at the library, said that sometimes they have to fill the free rack more than twice a day with WELS Prison books! With WELS Prison Ministry devotional books being distributed among the inmates, lives within the prison have been changed in ways only God through his Word could accomplish.

Many prisoners thirst for God’s Word. Being asked what these devotional books meant to her, Katherine Dillard simply said, “Everything.” Those devotional books were one way she was able to study the Bible. Others replied to the same question saying that because of the books they know they are loved; they know they are not alone; and they are able to grow in their spiritual life. One inmate even sought to be baptized after she read the devotional books. These books mean more than the world to those women. May the Lord have all Christians view God’s Word with the same importance!

Where there is faith there are good works. These women, having heard God’s Word, did not want to keep this good news to themselves. They too wanted to do what they could to share God’s Word with others who need to hear it. Therefore, being moved by Christian love, inmates raised funds from what little they had to give a donation to WELS Prison Ministry. These women may not be able to wash Jesus feet with their tears and their hair, but they are showing him much love by studying his Word and showing love to others by spreading his Word.

Pastor John Schwartz serves at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Pierre, S.D.

 

 

 

There, but for the grace of God, go I

At one time we all lived among [other sinners]. We tried to satisfy what our sinful nature wanted to do. We followed its longings and thoughts. God was angry with us and everyone else because of the kind of people we were. But God loves us deeply. He is full of mercy. So he gave us new life because of what Christ has done. He gave us life even when we were dead in sin. God’s grace has saved you. Ephesians 2:3-5 (NiRV 1998)

I’m surprised by how frequently I encounter the idea that there are “good” people and “bad” people in the world. To be sure, one can look around and immediately find examples of people whose outward lives conform to God-pleasing (or at least law-abiding) behavior. Other people make no effort to behave in a way that pleases God, even taking pride in their law breaking. Entertainment is full of law enforcement personnel (the good guys) trying to track down and lock up the monsters (the bad guys). We even hear some Christians voicing the question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

This kind of thinking can come too easily to anyone, even those who share Jesus with people behind bars. If we are not careful, Satan can get us to believe the lie that we are somehow inherently better or more valuable to God than the people we serve. Paul doesn’t let us go there. He reminds us clearly that every single one of us was, by nature, dead in sin and deserved God’s anger. But God’s grace and love made faith come to life within us. We trust that Christ obliterated all our sins, whether great or small in the eyes of the world. God now sees anyone who trusts in Jesus’ life and death in his or her place as perfectly fit for life with him forever. The grandma who never missed a Sunday in church for decades AND the man on death row, because of their trust in Jesus, wear the robes of Jesus’ righteousness. Both of them are not just good, but perfect people.

Tradition, though it cannot be proven, attributes our devotion’s title to an English clergyman as he watched a line of condemned men being led to the gallows. When we realize how “unfair” God is, namely punishing his Son for our sins instead of us, we are better able to be compassionate and seek the welfare of others. We had an amazing reminder of that recently. Make sure you catch the story in this issue of how God’s love to some inmates in South Dakota moved them to extend that love to others. Those who are forgiven much, love much.

Dave Hochmuth, WELS Prison Ministry Administrator

 

 

 

Welcome Home can be challenging

Welcoming a member who has been absent or scarce for a while back to church can be challenging in many circumstances, but especially if the person has spent time behind bars. The person trying to return to society in general and to one’s church family often has a barrier of shame. If addictive behaviors were a factor in the conviction, avoiding people or environments that trigger these behaviors is particularly difficult, which leads to a staggeringly high re-arrest rate.

Our efforts to welcome home members of Jesus’ flock that have wandered can demonstrate great love at a time of great need. Focusing these efforts on a specific Sunday can create needed urgency and encouragement to prompt us to act. But some wandering and lost sheep will take extra love and multiple invitations. Let us not grow weary of doing good.

WELS Prison Ministry has resources that are helpful for paving the road for released inmates to join or rejoin the family of Christ. Go to csm.welsrc.net/prison-ministry-resources to find:

  • Samples of the “Water of Life” Bible studies specifically designed for returning citizens. The entire set of Bible Studies is available free for ministry use using the linked order form.
  • Congregational Guidelines for Dealing with Sexual Offenders. These guidelines are downloadable.
  • A link to a Forward in Christ article describing the mentoring program for struggling individuals initiated by congregations in the New Ulm, Minn., area.

If you have any questions regarding ways your congregation can show love to released inmates in helpful yet careful ways, contact Prison Ministry Administrator Dave Hochmuth (dave.hochmuth@wels.net).

 

 

 

More Visibility for WELS Prison Ministry

In recent months we have had opportunities to share the joy of prison ministry with fellow WELS members and will have several more in the months ahead. The recently filmed 25th anniversary video was played at the 2019 WELS Convention last August. The video is available for viewing anytime on our website’s home page, wels.net/pm. We also had display booths at the WELS EdTechLead conference and LWMS convention in June, as well as the OWLS convention in October. We continue to reach out to future called workers with our monthly WELS Prison Ministry MLC student nights.

Some upcoming activities in December will give more awareness of our efforts. Forward in Christ magazine will contain an article describing the faith journey of former inmate, Daryl Fleck. He became connected with our correspondence course program while serving time in Minnesota. Upon release he sought out a WELS congregation, completed the Bible Information Course, and became a member. Daryl appeared in our 25th anniversary video.

In addition to Daryl’s story, the WELS Connection video used by many congregations will feature how WELS Special Ministries shows love and shares Christ with people in special circumstances. Prison Ministry will appear as a specific example. Finally, our ministry will also be featured in the quarterly mailing sent to people who give special or ongoing gifts directly to synod.

Watch for these stories in video and print. Use them as opportunities to share with friends the joy Jesus gives you in your Prison Ministry role. Invite those friends to join you in supporting (with prayer, volunteer time, or financial support) this amazing outreach ministry that shares Jesus with people impacted by incarceration.

 

 

 

From a recent inmate letter

“I am currently incarcerated in the Texas Department of Corrections…and came across a brother in Christ who is currently enrolled in your mail-in Bible study course. What a great gift you offer to sinners such as ourselves! I thank you whole-heartedly for your continued devotion to reach out to people such as ourselves that society would much rather lock away and “throw away the key.”

Many brothers in here have lost everything and EVERYONE and it is nice to see their faces light up when they receive mail from ministries such as yours. For a lot of these people, it is a sense of encouragement and joy to know that they are NOT forgotten and that there is SOMEONE out there who cares for them and prays for them.

Again, “thank you” for that, on behalf of those who may not express their gratitude. I see it! And God sees your works! May God continue to bless each and every one of you so that you may continue to share those blessings.”

Your brother in Christ,
Mario

 

 

Pen Pal Pipeline

Pen pal writing is an important way for us to share the gospel with inmates. So far in 2019, we have had 494 letters from inmates to 67 different pen pals come through our New Ulm office. It is incredible that we can reach so many with the gospel one on one!

The safety of the pen pal writer is always of vital concern for the Prison Ministry staff. Our Volunteer Guidelines state: “The only address you should use in your correspondence with your pen pal is: WELS Prison Ministry, PO Box 452, New Ulm, MN 56073. Send your pen pal letter to the above address. Use only Prison Ministry stationery and envelopes. This will ensure that the inmate does not know where you live….”

We urge you to abide by these instructions. Even if you feel your inmate is trustworthy, this prevents any chance that your name and address could fall into the hands of someone else in the facility that could do you harm.

Thanks for your faithful service to our ministry. You are reaching souls with God’s Word every time you write a letter, and God blesses those words even if you don’t see it. If you are not a pen pal and are interested in learning more, please contact the New Ulm office at pmsec@wels.net or at 507-354-3130.

(Spanish – translated to English) I write to you to thank you for the tests because they have helped me a lot and I have learned about the life of Jesus, of how much he loves us as it says in John 3:16. Thank you for praying for me…you have helped me so much to learn beautiful things from the word of God. May his peace be with you. – Leo

 

 

 

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