Breathless

“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

Those words summarize John’s eyewitness testimony about the Messiah. He wanted every reader of his gospel to know and believe what he knew and believed about Jesus.

The apostle had just related the events of that most remarkable Sunday:

  • Hearing Mary’s breathless report that Jesus’ tomb was empty.
  • Arriving breathless at Joseph’s garden, panting beside Peter, after sprinting there to verify Mary’s account.
  • Feeling the breath of their alive-again Master as he appeared to his stunned students behind locked doors.
  • Becoming annoyed at Thomas’ breathtaking refusal to accept their ten-fold testimony that “Jesus was just here, alive and breathing!”
  • Breathing a sigh of relief one week later as Thomas touched the wounded Warrior and confessed, “My Lord and my God!

Has John’s intention–“that you may believe”—been realized in your heart? Did you enter church on Resurrection Day breathlessly eager to shout, “Christ is risen! Alleluia!” Did you breathe in the scent of lilies and thank God for the Death Destroyer? Did you feel the breath of Jesus calming your guilt-gorged heart with four glorious words: “Peace be with you”?

The apostles declared and defended the truth to their last breath. As long as you have breath, you can tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love, of his resurrection and your restoration.

Now slip in behind some other locked doors, like the Breath of Life did as the sun set on the day the Son rose. These steel doors isolate law breakers from law keepers. Yet law breakers (that’s all of us!) are not meant to be isolated from the one perfect Law Keeper.

Sit beside an incarcerated man or woman who has never known the true God, or his love for the fallen, or the true meaning of Easter. Listen to his breath pause as he reads, “Peace be with you.” Feel her breath exhale in a rush of relief, then inhale the fresh air of forgiveness. “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

WELS Prison Ministry exists to breathe new life into dead souls, so that others may know and believe what you know and believe. Will you help us?

By Pastor David Rosenbaum, Prison Ministry Committee member

 

 

Inmates’ kids need Christ’s love too

WELS Prison Ministry’s mission statement is “sharing Jesus with people impacted by incarceration.” The impact of incarceration goes well beyond the inmates. The most direct secondary impact is on their families, including their kids. Just as Christ heals our relationship with his Heavenly Father, he also heals the earthly parent-child relationships damaged by sin and bad decisions that result in incarceration.

To help inmates seek healing for themselves and their children, WELS Prison Ministry is publishing “Parenting from Prison,” our 24th Level 1 self-study Bible correspondence course for inmates. In this new study, the author encourages and equips the inmates in four areas: Separation, Decisions, Connection, and Reunion. Our first parents caused our separation from our Heavenly Father, and this sin is the root cause of all subsequent gaps in parent-child relationships. Our own bad decisions have contributed to the problem, but God decided to send his Son in grace to solve our biggest problem without our help. Since the problem of our sin and separation from God is gone, we use our connection to God’s promises to enable us to live a new life, including our connection with our kids, even when that connection is made more difficult by incarceration. Finally, while the reunion with kids and others may be looked forward to with joy, there will be challenges, too. Jesus gives us hope and strength to meet those challenges. That hope and strength comes through his Word, which reminds us that God has guaranteed a reunion of all his followers that will never end, thanks to Jesus’ sacrificial love for us. That love moves inmates to do the actions of love needed to help their kids before and after release.

At press time, this new booklet is headed to the printer for the initial run of 10,000 copies. Your generous support provides the resources to develop and publish these new booklets. Thank you for helping us expand our library of resources to help God’s lost, straying, and returning sheep.

 

 

 

 

 

Bloom where you’re planted

Roger is an inmate who has something to share with the rest of us. He grew up in a Christian home and attended a WELS school as a child. But along the way he made some horrible choices and was convicted of a violent crime. Even though this man abandoned his Lord for a while, God never abandoned his baptized child. Roger’s friends and family have reflected God’s love to Roger, along with pastors and one of his former teachers. These brothers and sisters in Christ have continued to remind him of God’s full and free forgiveness no matter what the offense.

Roger has been deeply touched by the support he has received over the years and has been moved to try and find a way to thank Jesus by serving others. He has worked to fulfill Paul’s words: [God] comforts us in all our troubles. Now we can comfort others when they are in trouble. (2 Cor. 1:4; NIrV1998) Roger’s idea was to create word puzzles from Bible verses. He began this project several years ago with the assistance of former WELS PM administrator Dave Nack. Roger’s effort over the years have generated well over 100 puzzles that WELS PM is seeking to make available to other inmates.

Please pray that this effort will successfully result in making the puzzles available to inmates, perhaps in booklet form, so they are encouraged by God’s Word in a fun way, even in difficult circumstances. We have included a sample for your encouragement and to show one of the many ways we share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration through your prayers, volunteer efforts, and financial support.

(scroll down for answers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pen pal pipeline – Spring 2021

Thanks to our pen pals who do so much to lift inmates up spiritually. To ensure their continued ability to do so, our volunteer guidelines state: “DO NOT send money, stamps, personal items, or other items of earthly value to inmates.” Because of their low-paying jobs and the cost of these items, inmates can make a convincing case that sending such items would be a big help. This may be true, but we advise our pen pals to resist the urge to help in this way. There are several reasons for this:

  • Sending such items may be against facility regulations. Doing so could jeopardize your ability to continue encouraging your inmate, not to mention WELS Prison Ministry’s ability to continue serving inmates in that facility with the gospel.
  • Some inmates will ask for items even if they don’t need them to use for trading with other inmates on the “black market” to get drugs or other contraband.
  • We want inmates to look to their pen pals for spiritual and emotional support. Getting distracted by earthly wants can dilute this support.

If your inmate requests that you send items of value, tell him or her that you can only offer prayer, spiritual support, and friendship. You may also mention that doing so would violate your agreement with WELS Prison Ministry.
In rare instances there may be situations that warrant an exception. Please seek advice from our office before sending money or other items to your pen pal.

 

 

 

 

Three ways you can support prison ministry

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: Thanksgiving for the publication of our 24th Level 1 booklet; for continued improvement in the pandemic situation so that personal visits to correctional facilities become commonplace; for blessings on the soon-to-be-released mentor training; for continued designated gifts to fund all our ministry activities.

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 send an e-mail to dave.hochmuth@wels.net.

Give – We thank our Lord and you for your helpful special offerings to Prison Ministry which support our efforts to share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration!

  • To provide additional gifts for Christ’s work through Prison Ministry:
    WELS, Attn. Gift Processing
    N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
    Waukesha, WI, 53188
    (Make checks payable to WELS and list Prison Ministry in the memo line.)
  • Donate online at wels.net/donate-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 2021 designation is due by March 31, 2022.

 

 

 

Can you imagine?

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21, NIV)

Imagine the range of emotions and thoughts that went through Joseph’s mind. As you think about Christmas this year, put yourself in the shoes of those who were there. Consider Joseph as he saw Mary after she returned from visiting Elizabeth. She had been gone for a few months and when she came back, she was visibly pregnant. Joseph knew it was not his child! This was not right, but being an honorable man who cared for Mary, he was going to quietly divorce her. BUT then, the angel came to him in a dream explaining that this was from God.

Picture Joseph going to Mary and telling her about having an angel come to him. “Me, too!” Mary may have responded. “I was so scared, but the angel told me, ‘Do not be afraid!’” Think of her telling about Elizabeth, silent Zechariah, and John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth’s womb! I would encourage you to read through Luke chapter 1 and 2. As you read the accounts that Luke records, consider the words of Mary, Elizabeth, and Zechariah. Put yourself in their shoes, visualize what the shepherds saw, heard, and witnessed. Think about the words Zechariah and Mary use in their songs. These words give such comfort: forgiveness, peace, and mercy. Zechariah sang: “to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” (Luke 1:77).

Jesus did come, as the angel told Joseph, “to save his people from their sins.” You are part of the world that Jesus came to save! You are part of the “generation to generation” (Luke 1:50) that know sin and darkness. Jesus came to give you light, forgiveness, and peace! In Jesus, the words of the angel mean just as much to us, “Do not be afraid!”

Mary and Joseph were human beings just like you and me. They witnessed God fulfilling his promises, all the miracles and amazing wonders. Jesus was true God, coming down to save his people to give them the knowledge of salvation! This HIS-story is your story of salvation so that one day you too will witness with your eyes Jesus in heaven with all the angels. He gives us his Word! The angel even told Mary, “For nothing will be impossible for God.” (Luke 1:37 EHV). The Lord goes with you, just as he did with Mary and Joseph! Do not be afraid, rather rejoice – your Savior has come, my friend!

This salvation story fills us with peace and gives us a voice to share. God used the angels to proclaim this message of peace then but has called us to proclaim his message now. God help us share this message with all that are imprisoned by their sins and guilt. Jesus has come to save people from their sins. We have this message that truly does the impossible and opens hearts and eyes to know and see Jesus. What a gift! A gift that keeps on giving!

Have a blessed Christmas, and know your new year is in Jesus’ hands.

Pastor Darren Green, chairman, WELS Prison Ministry Committee

 

 

 

Rejoice with those who rejoice

Since we last checked in with you, God continues to bless our COVID-19 outreach. In the four months since we invited 2000 facilities to join our ministry-by-mail Bible studies, we have received orders for over 50,000 Bible study booklets. To give you some perspective, in recent years we have distributed about 40,000 booklets per year. Our total for 2020 is estimated to be twice that.

Both chaplains and inmates alike have expressed great thanks for these self-studies that have helped take the place of visitation and in-person Bible studies that are currently on hold because of the pandemic. Here are some sample comments they have shared.

I’ve struggled with forgiving myself of my sins and this really helped me realize that God has forgiven me and has separated my sins from me “as far as the East is from the West.” That’s so awesome!! Also, thank you so much for the cards signed by the kids. They really touch my heart and make me very happy! God bless you all!. – Charles

Like all of your previous courses, I enjoyed this one as well. I’ve learned a lot about who I really am now. I am an adopted child of God. That makes me special and makes me relevant. I never thought I mattered before, but now I know that I am one of his dear children and he loves me. Thank you for your course. – Antonio

I just wanted to send you a note of thanks regarding the receipt of the Bible studies for prisoners. I reviewed them and found them to be something we definitely will be using and distributing to the inmates. I did a “test run” today when I visited the dorms and in just one dorm, half of the stock was given out! So, WELS should be anticipating some completed studies soon. I am sending in another order as we have 13 dorms. Our institution has been on lockdown since April due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The men can’t leave the dorm, no programs are taking place, etc. They are in need of new material and your material has been an answer to prayer. Thanks again and continued blessings on your ministry! – Chaplain

Thank you for your generous offer to help the prisoners here at WCC. We are grateful for your material that gives the word of God to men who suffer from not having it available to recall from their heart. You help put it into effect! – Chaplain

What an opportunity we have been given. Our materials are now available to thousands of inmates who did not have access previously. Not only that, but we have God’s promise that “The words I speak are like that. They will not return to me without producing results. They will accomplish what I want them to. They will do exactly what I sent them to do.” (Isaiah 55:11 NIrV) God’s Word is going into places we can’t go and is accomplishing the results he wants. What joy we have by being part of this effort.

 

 

 

 

A closer look at mentoring

Editor’s note: Jesse Zart, a member of the Minnesota River Valley Mentoring Program, gives us an update on their activities. He gives us a great look at ways Jesus is working despite COVID-19. WELS Prison Ministry teams with this mentoring program and desires to foster similar programs in other communities. Jesse makes clear that mentoring has a wider application than just released inmates.

Although the current pandemic has limited the ability of WELS Prison Ministries and others to have in-person inmate visits, God’s work is still very much in action through the efforts of the Minnesota River Valley Mentoring Program (MRVMP), New Ulm, Minn.

The MRVMP and WELS Prison Ministries collaborate frequently because we have similar missions—we both share Jesus with those in need. For instance, WELS Prison Ministry is about to release an online video training course called, “Mentoring Returning Citizens.” The MRVMP provided insight, experience, and consultation for the materials and subject matter for this project. The result will provide churches and individuals basic training that prepares them to effectively mentor those in need. Although this training is titled “Mentoring Returning Citizens” (that is, inmates released from prison or jail), it is also valuable for mentoring anyone in need.

We have shown that one doesn’t need to be an expert to be an effective mentor who shares Jesus’ love. Whether former inmates or not, many mentees (the persons we serve) struggle with basic life skills like budgeting, meal planning, and searching for jobs. Others suffer from addictions like alcohol, drugs, pornography[a], and more. Others still have anger management or anxiety issues that create relationship and employment difficulties. We are not trained psychologists, therapists, or counselors. We are self-professed learners who admit we don’t have all the answers. Yet as average, caring Christian human beings we see God blessing our efforts.

We partner with a few groups to best help those in need and refer to professional resources when necessary. One partner is a local Survivor’s Group that has volunteers trained to be a primary safe point of contact for survivors of domestic abuse. They also lead group sessions that create mutual support opportunities. We have found this partnership to be mutually beneficial as some volunteers are suitably trained to assist in either of our respective programs. Our programs also act as feeders for each other.

Another partner is Resilient Recovery, a Christ-based version of Alcoholics Anonymous that specializes in group sessions for many addictions, not just alcohol. Their program enables individuals to meet in group sessions that have their own unique benefits. This allows MRVMP to focus on the individual mentoring. Once again, our respective programs can also act as feeders for each other.

There are many opportunities to serve, and God’s work is still very active. The “cloud” of not getting to have in-person meetings has the “silver lining” of time to build out and develop other programs that will help even more people going forward. God bless your efforts to share Jesus with others, whether it’s being a mentor, communicating with inmates as a pen pal or test corrector, or supporting the work these volunteers do.

[a] Ref. Conquerors through Christ serves those who are suffering from the affects of pornography.

 

Corrector’s corner

Our test correctors have a very important role in our ministry. Their encouragement is a key factor in motivating inmates to continue in the program and thereby be blessed by God’s Word. We ask that our correctors “include lots of gospel, encouraging words, and positive comments on each test (at least 2-3 sentences).” Many inmates have not spent time in an environment where God’s Word was considered valuable or useful. Their biblical knowledge may be limited or clouded by mistaken ideas from previous religious experiences. As a result, some test questions are answered incorrectly. While we do want inmates to know the truth by indicating the correct answer, we understand that growth in faith is a time-consuming process. The gospel-affirming, encouraging comments let the inmates know that we care about their growth in knowledge and trust in Jesus, even when that knowledge is incomplete or not yet in keeping with Scripture. For some inmates, the care and concern our volunteers express is the only positive feedback or expressions of worth they receive. They learn that Jesus loves them not only in God’s Word, but through the actions of their brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray that the gospel encouragement motivates them to want to grow more.

 

 

 

 

Three ways to support prison ministry

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: Thanksgiving for the significant response to our COVID-19 outreach and a petition that more facilities respond; ask that God send many generous donors of small and large gifts to allow us to print many books to keep up with the demand; ask, according to God’s will, that the pandemic may ease and that inmates might again receive in-person visits.

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 send an e-mail to dave.hochmuth@wels.net.

Give – We thank our Lord and you for your helpful special offerings to Prison Ministry which support our efforts to share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration!

To provide additional gifts for Christ’s work through Prison Ministry:

WELS, Attn. Gift Processing
N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
Waukesha, WI, 53188
(Make checks payable to WELS and list
Prison Ministry in the memo line.)

Donate online at wels.net/prison-ministry-donation.

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 2020 designation is due by March 31, 2021.

 

 

 

2020 is a great year

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)

 

 

 

 

Reaching out instead of pulling back

Paul reminds Timothy (and us): “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” We really need that encouragement these days, as do those we serve. It is in this spirit that the Prison Ministry Committee authorized a significant outreach effort to offer our Bible correspondence self-study booklets to over 2,000 correctional facilities because of the interruption in personal visits. Here are some quick facts about the effort and steps you can take to further the effort.

  • We mailed a sample booklet and a brochure to the chaplain, activity director, or program coordinator describing our booklets and inviting them to order free copies for the inmates at their institution. We chose the booklet “A Broken-hearted Father” based on Jesus’ story of the prodigal son as a great example of God’s overwhelming love for his lost children.
  • Our mailing list consisted of facilities with which we have had interaction in the past. Over 75 percent of the facilities we sent a mailing to have not received booklets in over two years. The breakdown is as follows:
    • County Jail/Detention Center – 955
    • State Correctional Facility – 1044
    • Federal Correctional Facility – 111
    • Immigration and Customs Enforcement
    • Facility – 22
    • Youth/Juvenile Offender Facility – 46
  • Please pray that the mailing will find receptive staff members at the facilities, that many books will be ordered, that many tests will be returned, but most importantly, that many souls will be touched by the gospel and faith created or strengthened.
  • Consider giving a gift that will help us print many more booklets so we can fill the orders with which God blesses us.

 

 

 

Finding alternatives for jail or prison visitors

During the current pandemic, personal visits to share the gospel with inmates are severely restricted or prohibited altogether. Individuals and groups that previously visited these lost sheep in person may seek alternatives, such as:

  • Supply Bible self-study books – Consider contacting the chaplain, activity director, or program coordinator for the facilities you normally visit and encouraging the use of WELS Prison Ministry booklets. Download an order form and send it to the corrections official.
  • Replace in-person visits with video visits – Trained jail visitors may explore whether the facility you serve has either onsite or remote video visits for individual inmates.
  • Replace in-person visits with other communication – Electronically delivered devotions from WELS Prison Ministry or our partner Institutional Ministries are available to some inmates.

If you wish to explore these alternatives further or share other ideas, contact Administrator Dave Hochmuth at dave.hochmuth@wels.net or 414-256-3243.

 

 

 

Quotes from inmates – Summer 2020

When I came to jail 18 months ago I was lost. While I still find myself struggling with my faith, believing in Jesus…has really done something. I’ve seen my prayers get answered. It’s been life changing. – LeeAnna

That [study] hit home for me! For 30 years I have been trying to know if I could be forgiven and WOW here it is! Thank you! I needed this study most. God Bless you all!! I will be keeping this study to take home. Love your studies. Keep them going. – Earl

I enjoyed the reading from start to finish. My first one. I am hungry for more of these lessons. Very easy to understand and even though the lessons were short and quick, it was big on knowledge about God. I want more! Thank you so much for this lesson! 🙂 – Cynthia

…the mentors/graders have been a huge blessing of positive encouragement and I truly am thankful for every one that continues to be that kind of positive example of how a Christian should be. – Martin

 

 

Pen Pal Pipeline – Summer 2020

We love to hear that upon release, there are inmates who would like to attend a WELS church, if possible. Occasionally they will be located too far away to attend a WELS or ELS church in person, but other times, there is one close by they can attend. It’s great that these inmates have connected with our church body and the message we bring—that they are forgiven through the blood of Jesus!

When pen pals have connected with inmates through letters, it’s not uncommon that an inmate will share in a letter that they would like to attend a WELS church upon their release. We ask that if your inmate pen pal shares this with you, please send that information to us so we can make a connection between the inmate and the pastor of the church. Our Reaching Behind the Bars Volunteer Guidelines state: “When you hear that your inmate will be released, contact the WELS Prison Ministry office. We will refer him or her to the closest WELS or ELS congregation. Please do not make referrals yourself.” We make this request so that we can better follow up with the inmate and congregation and ensure that the inmate gets both spiritual and practical support while reentering society.

 

 

 

Three ways to support our ministry

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: bless our outreach mailing and allow us to touch many more souls; move God’s people to support this ministry in this difficult time, especially when God’s blessing leads to a greater demand for booklets.

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 send an e-mail to dave.hochmuth@wels.net.

Give – We thank our Lord and you for your helpful special offerings to Prison Ministry which support our efforts to share Jesus with people impacted by incarceration!

  • To provide additional gifts for Christ’s work through Prison Ministry:
    WELS, Attn. Gift Processing
    N16W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
    Waukesha, WI, 53188
    (Make checks payable to WELS and list
    Prison Ministry in the memo line.)
  • Donate online at wels.net/donate-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 2020 designation is due by March 31, 2021.

 

 

 

“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.