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.
Learn about the ministry work of WELS Special Ministries.
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