Tag Archive for: prison ministry

Resistance and strength

Finally, let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor. Then you can remain strong against the devil’s evil plans. Our fight is not against human beings. It is against the rulers, the authorities and the powers of this dark world. It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly world. Ephesians 6:10-12 (NIrV)

When trying to build bodily strength, resistance is needed. Whether it is a world-class athlete or a struggling patient in physical therapy, physical movement must be opposed to build strength in the targeted muscles. And that resistance can be very painful. As the saying goes, “No pain, no gain.”

In a similar fashion, God sometimes uses opposition to build spiritual strength in his followers. And that opposition can be painful and look overwhelming at times. Paul reminds us that our opposers are in fact overwhelming to humans on their own. In trying to share Jesus with others, none other than Satan himself and all his allies, both spiritual and physical, line up to try and stop what we are doing.

So what are we to do? Cower in fear? Give up at the first (or second or third) sign of difficulty? Not at all. In God’s typical incomprehensible fashion, he both gives and builds strength in his followers. Paul says it clearly, “Let the Lord make you strong. Depend on his mighty power.” Yet God also wants us to exercise our faith so that we “can remain strong against the devil’s evil powers.” And what enables us to do that? God’s armor. The following verses describe the helmet of salvation, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, and the sword of God’s Word, among other pieces. We cannot expect to sit around and have God fight our battles for us. God makes it clear that we are part of his spiritual army that takes on hell itself.

These verses are a great encouragement as our ministry continues to face challenges and opposition. The list of facilities that require special mail handling continues to grow. This has caused significant increases in our returned mail and delays in delivering booklets and tests to inmates. Fewer institutions accept greeting cards, which historically have provided much encouragement to inmates. Some faithful chaplains who have been longtime supporters of our ministry-by-mail efforts are retiring. Another recent challenge has been booklet printing. Printers have had difficulty finding paper and, like everything else, the price has increased significantly. In addition to ministry-by-mail challenges, many institutions have been slow in opening back up to personal visitation and Bible studies led by volunteers.

We are not surprised by these growing challenges because we know the good things God’s Word does when it is sent out. Lives are changed and souls are saved for eternity. Confident of this, we redouble our efforts to find solutions or workarounds for our difficulties. You can be part of this. Join us in praying for courage, wisdom, and strength for our ministry’s leaders and volunteers. Consider a special gift to Prison Ministry to help offset the increase in our costs. Explore involvement in a visitation or mentoring ministry to touch lives personally. Instructions for these actions are presented in “Three ways to support our ministry.” Also see the mentoring article in this issue.

Mr. Dave Hochmuth, Prison Ministry administrator

 

 

New teammates and opportunities

In response to the challenge of finding facilities willing to accept our self-study Bible correspondence courses, WELS Prison Ministry has teamed up with the Lutheran Institutional Ministry Association (LIMA) for an outreach effort to every correctional facility we can identify in Minnesota (LIMA’s home) and Iowa. So far we have reached out by telephone to every Minnesota facility listed in a national database. As a result, chaplains and others have ordered over 1,000 booklets from approximately 50 facilities in Minnesota, many of which we had not dealt with previously. We are deeply grateful for the efforts of Emily Bartsch, a new temporary staff member, who has dedicated many hours to calling and recalling these facilities.

Our next step is to complete a similar effort in Iowa. In addition, we want to seek more Iowa recipients for digital devotions sent by another partner, Institutional Ministries (IM). IM has developed an effective system for distributing devotions six days per week via CorrLinks.com. This system is available to inmates in both the Wisconsin and Iowa Department of Correction facilities, among other places. Please pray for success according to God’s will.

 

 

Join others to learn: Are you mentor material?

WELS Prison Ministry recently completed our first online training session for potential mentors of returning citizens, that is, formerly incarcerated individuals. We had eight students from South Dakota, Texas, Arizona, and Iowa. The initial feedback has been very positive. Everyone who responded to our post instruction survey indicated they either agreed or strongly agreed that they would recommend the course to someone who was considering mentoring. Here’s a few comments by participants:

    • I thoroughly enjoyed the time and looked forward to Zoom each week.
    • I do feel better equipped and know that I can refer to the book for guidance as well to stay on track.
    • The time flew by! Questions seemed to be answered with lots of side bits of food for thought.

While visits to correctional facilities are still hit and miss in many areas because of COVID, there is a steady stream of inmates who are being released upon fulfillment of their sentences. This is a huge opportunity to share the love of Christ where it is really needed and a potential harvest field.

Our next online offering of our training course Mentoring a Returning Citizen is planned for late January to February 2023. Prison Ministry Committee member Tom Koepsell is scheduled to facilitate. The training course will help you evaluate whether you have the gifts and abilities to serve as a mentor and, if so, equip you to begin your service. Taking the course does not mean you are committing to serve as a mentor. You’ll find, however, that you can use the skills that are taught and practiced in many areas of your life, including parenting and interacting with people. So the time you invest will be well spent regardless of whether or not you decide to pursue this ministry.

To obtain more information about the class, contact Prison Ministry Administrator Dave Hochmuth at dave.hochmuth@wels.net or Tom Koepsell at tgkoepsell45@gmail.com.

 

Decades of service . . . after reaching retirement age

This past summer, Elisabeth Newell, one of our faithful test correctors, celebrated her 100th birthday. We’re not sure exactly when Elisabeth began her service, but we believe it was at least 20 years ago. She is so thankful to have had this avenue to exercise and share her faith. She is also thankful that God has graciously preserved her mind and physical abilities so that she could continue to serve. Just recently Elisabeth was concerned that an inmate didn’t truly understand that faith is a gift and not something he does. She contacted our administrator to make sure she provided clear feedback to the inmate on a test response that was ambiguous. Elisabeth still derives joy in serving. Another recent test packet contained 23 tests, all by the same inmate. Among all the test questions there were only one or two incorrect answers, which was a great encouragement to Elisabeth.

Join us in thanking all our test correctors and pen pals for their compassionate service as they encourage troubled souls. As we mentioned in previous issues, for the time being we have enough regular test correctors. But we still have opportunities for new pen pals. If you would like to explore being a pen pal, please inquire at our office (prisonministry@wels.net or 507-354-3130).

 

 

Three ways to support our ministry

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: for blessings on our outreach efforts to new facilities; gratefulness for our first mentor training course; for blessings on the additional planned mentor training and new mentor ministries; 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, 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 2022 designation is due by March 31, 2023.

 

 

 

Mentoring a Returning Citizen training

God has richly blessed ministry to the incarcerated as an outreach to the lost. Whether it is WELS Prison Ministry’s correspondence Bible studies, Institutional Ministries’ chaplain visitation and email devotions, or local efforts at jail ministry, the gospel has been changing hearts. In correctional facilities across this nation, the Spirit has opened the eyes of people who had no hope and showed them life in Christ, here and eternally.

What happens to these souls when they are no longer behind bars? Will they find the spiritual support they need to follow Christ in true freedom?

WELS Prison Ministry created an online mentoring course for returning citizens based on a successful mentoring model which Minnesota River Valley Mentoring Program (https://mrvmp.com/) that helps people who struggle with many different challenges. Our course videos and workbook are online and can be used at any time. But of course, the training experience is more enjoyable and effective when a facilitator leads a group through the training.

You can learn to provide guidance and encouragement to a man or woman returning to your community or church from incarceration. We call the people in this uniquely challenging category “returning citizens.” A Christian friend and a congregation can be extremely helpful to such people. They’re the key to spiritual support as well as assimilation back into the community and the church.

You’re invited to participate in a special group offering of online training, Mentoring a Returning Citizen, in the next few months. The training will help you evaluate whether you have the gifts and abilities to serve as a mentor and, if so, equip you to begin your service. There is no commitment to serve if you take the course. The skills that are taught and practiced have application in many areas including parenting and interacting with people at work. So the time you invest will be well spent regardless of whether or not you decide to pursue this ministry.

The facilitator for this course will be Prison Ministry Committee member Tom Koepsell. “Mentoring is a subject near to my heart,” says Tom. “Having worked with the incarcerated for well over a decade, I have come to appreciate the challenges they will face upon release. But more than that, I have experienced the role their Savior is playing in their lives and what Jesus means when he talks about seeking and saving the lost. When you bring Jesus to such people, you learn to love them as Jesus does. It’s a rewarding experience.”

The course will be a combination of online sessions with other participants, videos that can be viewed individually by the participants, and activities in a workbook with both individual and group exercises. You can view elements of the course at welscongregationalservices.net/mentoring-a-returning-citizen/  Details about the course can also be found there.

To register for the class or obtain more information, contact Prison Ministry Administrator Dave Hochmuth at dave.hochmuth@wels.net or Tom Koepsell at tgkoepsell45@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Finding good peer pressure

“If you have to be a follower, why don’t you follow someone good?” The mother who asked this question was frustrated because her son was always getting into trouble. He never seemed to be the instigator. His true problem was not, she realized, that her son was a follower. There are always leaders and followers. Not all followers are influenced by the troublemakers.

She had discovered an important perspective. Peer pressure can be good or bad.

What if we analyzed who should influence us? Gang recruits and people who are incarcerated may think that they only have one option: to give in to the pressure of their peers to do bad things. What if they saw another way? What if they came to see the hope that Jesus gives and followed him?

Peer Pressure is the topic of the newest Bible study in the WELS Prison Ministry self-study Bible correspondence course series. Thoroughly Biblical (over a dozen Scriptures are studied) and Christ-centered, the new course, Peer Pressure, navigates the question of who to follow. Students follow the experiences of “Pete” who is new to prison and pressured by a gang leader, along with the spiritual guidance of his Christian cellmate “John.” Pete learns the joy and peace of following Jesus, although not without suffering at the hands of those who expected him to join their sinful activities. Having suffered, Pete discovers that when he follows Christ, the Lord gives him freedom he didn’t have when he felt trapped by going along with the crowd.

Because God wants to keep us from being led astray by Satan and this world, he gives us the church, his believers who provide the best kind of peer pressure. As this new Bible study lays the foundation for resisting the pressure to sin, it quotes Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIRV), “Let us consider how we can stir up one another to love. Let us help one another to do good works. Let us not give up meeting together. Some are in the habit of doing this. Instead, let us cheer each other up with words of hope. Let us do it all the more as you see the day coming when Christ will return.”

We don’t gather with other believers only to help ourselves, but to encourage others with words of hope. It’s more important than we might think. Others are looking for acceptance, hope, love, and a sense of direction. Often citizens returning to society from incarceration feel judged all over again by God’s people. Our Lord planned for the family of believers to encourage each other, not resurrect the guilt Jesus already paid for. The world is eager to pressure them to go in the wrong direction, back to old friends and habits. Our Savior put us here to provide encouragement and hope through the eternal gospel. Watch for opportunities to provide the best kind of peer pressure! Pray that this newest Prison Ministry Bible study will be a great blessing to many who are incarcerated.

Rev. Jim Behringer
Director, Commission on Special Ministries

 

 

 

Finding hope when life seems hopeless

Psalm 42 is a favorite of mine. The psalmist pours his heart out to God, looking for help because he is in a seemingly helpless situation. We feel the pangs of his heart as he asks “where can I go and meet with God? …God, my Rock, why have you forgotten me? …why are you so downcast, O my soul?” (verses 2, 9, and 11)

Put yourself in the shoes of a first-time inmate. Last week you were out, free to decide how to spend your day. This week, every moment is scheduled, every movement dictated. And yet, amid all the structure, everything is uncertain. How long will I be here? What will my sentence be? What do my loved ones think of me? And most importantly, what does God think of me?

We don’t have to be an inmate to have these thoughts, either. Life is uncertain at times for all. We may feel lonely, or that God is distant from us. Thankfully, these are only our emotions, tainted by sin, not our reality. For the believer in Jesus, our God is always near. He is not ashamed to call us his friends. He has a future planned for us, one not filled with uncertainty, but with the sure hope of everlasting life.

Not all people understand this or know how loving and understanding our God truly is. An inmate may not want to think of God as his Father because of the poor example of his human father. An inmate may not be able to trust the Bible, or the visitor who brings God’s Word, because he has never known someone who is truly trustworthy. An inmate may have a hard time believing his sins have been forgiven; it just doesn’t follow the rule of “what goes around, comes around.”

The writer of Psalm 42 invites us all, whether inside a cellblock or not, to where he found answers to his questions and the hope that truly filled the hole in his broken heart. He went to God. And our God is as near to us as our Bible. There we find, “The Lord is close to those whose hearts have been broken. He saves those whose spirits have been crushed.” (Ps 34:18) “He lifts up all those who feel helpless.” (Ps 145:14) “The Lord will watch over your life no matter where you go, both now and forever.” (Ps 121:8)

Our God is more than simply near; he is someone who acts on our behalf. “All of us are like sheep. We have wandered away from God. All of us have turned to our own way. And the Lord has placed on his servant the sins of all of us.” (Is 53:6) “Christ didn’t have any sin. But God made him become sin for us. So we can be made right with God because of what Christ has done for us.” (2 Cor 5:21)

When the psalmist writes “Put your hope in God” (verses 5 & 11), he means trust what God has done on your behalf. Reflect for a moment on all that God has done for you: God has come to a rebellious planet, has lived the perfect life we cannot live, has taken the punishment of hell that we deserved, has gone to a grave that should have been ours, and has risen to demonstrate his power over death. As we hope in this kind of God, we praise him for saving us by living for him, and no longer living for ourselves.

Often inmates do not know this kind of God. Many believe God is seeking only justice. That’s where we come in. “We are Christ’s official messengers. It is as if God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Cor 5:20) Our task is to show Christ to others. As God gives us opportunities to witness to others the deeds he has done for all, they learn of Christ’s love for them. As God gives us opportunities to help them with deeds of kindness and love, they see Christ’s love in action. In so doing, we bring hope to the hopeless. It is our high privilege to show Christ to others as we show them Christ working in us.

By Bob Fink, Prison Ministry Committee member

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome Bob Fink

The Prison Ministry Committee welcomes Bob Fink of Manitowoc, Wis. Joining us at the start of 2022, Bob has been involved as a volunteer in jail ministry at the Manitowoc County Jail since 2014. Bob brings the experience of both called ministry and business to the committee. He served WELS high schools in Westland, Mich., and Manitowoc from 1978 to 2008, teaching mainly chemistry, physics, math and German. In 2008 he took a position as a software engineer and Technology Specialist at Emerging Technologies of Two Rivers, Wis., retiring from there in 2019. He currently serves Grace Lutheran Church of Manitowoc as a part time retired staff minister, visiting shut-ins and teaching the adult Bible classes there.

Bob’s main responsibility will be the oversight of the production and printing of our inmate-focused Bible studies. He is also currently tasked with following up on the many chaplains who ordered our prison ministry study booklets in the past.

 

 

 

 

Are you mentor material?

Have you ever wished for the opportunity to make a meaningful difference, maybe even eternal difference, in someone’s life? Or maybe you wished you had the training to know how to truly help someone with great needs?

This August or October, you can learn about mentoring a returning citizen, providing guidance and encouragement to a man or woman returning to your community or your church from incarceration. You’re invited to participate in online training, Mentoring a Returning Citizen. The training will help you evaluate whether you have the gifts and abilities to serve as a mentor and, if so, equip you to begin your service. There is no commitment to serve if you take the course. The skills that are taught and practiced have application in many areas including parenting and interacting with people at work. So the time you invest will be well spent regardless of whether or not you decide to pursue this ministry.

The facilitator for this course will be Prison Ministry Committee member Tom Koepsell. “Mentoring is a subject near to my heart,” says Tom. “Having worked with the incarcerated for well over a decade, I have come to appreciate the challenges they will face upon release. But more than that, I have experienced the role their Savior is playing in their lives and what Jesus means when he talks about seeking and saving the lost. When you bring Jesus to such people, you learn to love them as Jesus does. It’s a rewarding experience.”

The course will be a combination of online sessions with other participants, videos that can be viewed individually by the participants, and activities in a workbook that will be a combination of individual and group exercises. You can view elements of the course at welscongregationalservices.net/mentoring-a-returning-citizen/  Details about the course can also be found there.

To register for the class or obtain more information, contact Prison Ministry Administrator Dave Hochmuth at dave.hochmuth@wels.net or Tom Koepsell at tgkoepsell45@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

Ways to support our ministry – Summer 2022

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: guidance for moving into electronic communication with inmates; for continued improvement in the pandemic situation so that personal visits to correctional facilities become commonplace; for blessings on the planned mentor training and new mentor ministries; 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, 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 2022 designation is due by March 31, 2023.

 

 

 

Current Ministry Needs

Because of the stricter policies for what can be sent to an inmate, we are unable to use the normal quantity of “extras” that we often send to inmates, including greeting cards. For the time being we have an abundance in stock and do not need new donations of cards. We still welcome donations of Meditations that are less than a year old, in good shape (not curled up), and no stickers or writing on or in them. Call the New Ulm office for further details at 507-354-3130.

At this time we can accommodate a few more pen pals, but we currently have enough test correctors. In the future as our digital outreach effort matures, our need for test correctors and pen pal volunteers may increase, especially those willing to communicate digitally. If you would like to be put on a waiting list for future digital volunteers, send us an e-mail with your contact information (prisonministry@wels.net).

 

 

 

“When they’re down in the gutter, stomp on ‘em!”

I loved my football coach. At first I feared his tough exterior, but it didn’t take this young high school kid long to discover the warm caring heart underneath. On the grid iron, that expression (We knew it was tongue-in-cheek.) promoted the toughness it takes to play the game. In this sinful world, things go wrong. So a certain toughness can be a real virtue. (I think the biblical term is “endurance.”)

“Indeed, whatever was written in the
past was written for our instruction, so that, through patient endurance and
the encouragement of the Scriptures,
we would have hope.” [Romans 15:4]

Let’s consider how we, the body of Christ, can potentially foster or discourage such endurance. It was the last incarceration for her. She had learned her lesson. She was in jail; her baby girl was with foster parents. She cried. I shed tears with her. “I want my baby.”

Incarceration separates parents from their families. It’s not pretty. Shall we say they should have thought of that before the got themselves into this fix? Shall we say they made their bed so now they can sleep in it? When they’re “down in the gutter” shall we “stomp on ‘em?”
Sin corrupts; sin produces dysfunction. You and I are dysfunctional because of sin. Enter: the one who associates with “tax collectors and sinners.” Enter: Jesus.

When Jesus said the fields are ripe, he didn’t say we should let it rot in the field. There is a ripe field behind bars. The consequences of sin and the accompanying guilt produce a crop ready for harvest.

Getting out and getting back together will not solve the problem. The parent needs Jesus to deal with the sin and guilt; they need Godly wisdom and guidance to learn parenting skills they never had. The whole family needs healing that only the Great Physician can bring.

Penal systems have realized that any rehabilitation they can provide falls short. Many have seen “faith-based” organizations as more capable of providing what is needed. To know the love of Jesus and the unconditional love and forgiveness provides the healing families need. Learning the patience, kindness, selflessness, and humility it takes comes from knowing Jesus. That is a major goal of your WELS Prison Ministry Committee. We want to provide God’s people with the training to carry out this mission of love.

What was written in the past can help all of us develop the patient endurance required to cope in this dysfunctional world.

Tom Koepsell, Prison Ministry Committee member

 

 

 

Parenting Behind Bars

Parenting is a tough job! It looks easy from afar, but not so much when you have to make the decisions and solve the problems in real life.
Imagine being a parent long distance. You have very limited and irregular contact with your children, who are being raised by someone else. Because of your separation, your kids view you with suspicion or anger, or doubt your love for them. You live with regrets and guilt and bouts of depression, all complicated by legal difficulties.

Very excellent book . . . You covered all the bases and in the gray areas you gave it to God. This study brought tears to my eyes.

Thomas, inmate

This could, in part, describe a military family with a parent on deployment, or a family broken by divorce. But only a parent who is incarcerated faces all the above challenges.

WELS Prison Ministry has added a new booklet, Parenting from Prison, to the 23 other titles in its Level 1 Self-Study series. Inmates can request a Bible study, complete a final test, return it for correction, and then request another topic.

Parenting from Prison revisits the root of the problem: the first sin by our first parents. That transgression separated them from their Heavenly Father, leaving them in a prison of pain and regret for having ruined the relationship. But God was determined to restore the father-child trust, which he achieved by sending his only Son.

Incarcerated parents are directed throughout the volume to focus on Jesus and his grace. They are also advised to be honest about their feelings; to be realistic about the challenges; to address their stress by talking with others; and to be patient, trusting God to accomplish what they cannot.

Practical, common-sense, straight forward approach. Teaches how to overcome obstacles of separation, and build a solid plan for the future. Doesn’t belittle or talk down to prisoners, but helps recognize past mistakes, discourage self-doubt, and foster relationships of growth in faith, love, understanding and forgiveness. Thank you for loving me with the truth!

Kelly, inmate

Simple suggestions are offered for communicating with children, such as weaving God’s Word into letters and phone calls; being truthful about mistakes that were made; consistently expressing their love for their sons and daughters; inquiring about events in their lives; and using positive words in all their interactions.

A chapter is devoted to what happens upon release and reunion. The parent in custody will have to readjust to freedom and responsibility, but the entire family will need to readjust their thinking, their behavior, and their priorities when mom or dad returns home. That calls for patience, love, wisdom, and forgiveness by everyone involved.

The study closes with a look at what the Bible says about parenting, including a study of Moses’s mother, Jochebed, and what we can learn from her.

Do you know any parents who are incarcerated? You can submit their contact information to WELS Prison Ministry at wels.net/refer. Please ask the Lord to bless this new resource, helping mothers and fathers to do what is possible in a task that seems impossible: parenting from prison.

Editor’s Note: By Pastor David Rosenbaum, Prison Ministry publications editor. Originally published in the His Hands blog from WELS Special Ministries, January 26,2022. If you would like to receive His Hands in your e-mail every two weeks, go to the form at wels.net/subscribe and subscribe to “His Hands.”

 

 

 

 

Correctors Corner and Pen Pal Pipeline

Thanks to all our current test correctors and pen pals for your patience and dedication as we seek to support your ministry efforts. We apologize for any difficulties in your ministry that are caused by the disruption in mail procedures that we are experiencing. Some of you may have pen pal letters delayed; others may have fewer tests to correct because of the difficulties in delivering booklets to inmates; others may not not be affected by the changes, depending on where the inmates you serve reside.

As WELS Prison Ministry seeks to adapt to the changing landscape, it will be helpful to know which of our volunteers may be willing to explore using digital communication methods, like e-mail, to carry out ministry tasks. We are working toward establishing clear and safe procedures and will at some point need test correcting and pen pal volunteers to do some or all their ministry correspondence digitally. If you would be willing to explore becoming involved in this aspect of Prison Ministry, please notify us (prisonministry@wels.net).

 

 

 

 

Prison Ministry meets the 21st Century

At one time nearly every inmate in the country could receive mail, cards, books, and other encouraging material sent by our ministry via U.S. Mail. Unfortunately, this is changing. More and more facilities are changing the way they serve inmates and the requirements for messages and material sent to them. To continue to serve inmates with the life-saving and life-changing gospel, our ministry is adapting to the new situation.

What’s driving the changes?
There are many factors, but two are prominent. One is the influx of contraband into jails and prison via mail. Drugs and other items are sent in very sophisticated ways, including as liquid drops applied to letters, which the inmate can consume to get high. Departments of Correction, along with prison and jail staff, are seeking to interrupt this process by entering into contracts with companies that photocopy each piece of mail and deliver the copy to the inmate. Alternatively, some inmates have access to either a tablet or a kiosk in the facility where they can receive, display, and read a file with the scanned letter.

A second factor is facility staffing. Hiring correctional officers and staff to work in correctional facilities has been difficult, especially during the pandemic. Sorting, inspecting, and delivering the mail for inmates is time consuming and labor intensive. The companies that scan the mail also sort it and organize it for inmate delivery, which greatly reduces the workload. The third party mail service allows facility staff to focus on other tasks and hire fewer people.

What are the impacts of the changes?
The impacts affect various aspects of our ministry:

    • Delivery of Bibles and Bible studies. Many locations now require physical books to be sent directly from the publisher or online retailer. Bibles and Bible study booklets we send are rejected by some facilities. Others that still accept them indicate their acceptance may be temporary. Others indicate that original material, like our Bible studies, will have to be reformatted in electronic format to be sent to inmates chapter by chapter.
    • Delivery of pen pal letters, corrected tests, and other items. Some pen pal letters have been returned because they come from an organization (WELS Special Ministry) rather than a friend or family member. We are finding corrected tests don’t fit the third-party mail vendor requirements for a maximum size of 8.5×11 inches. Page limits reduce the number of encouragement items (cards or bookmarks) we can send with corrected tests.

Unfortunately, there is little consistency on guidelines and requirements from one vendor to the next and even from one DOC or facility to the next using the same vendor. This creates a great deal of confusion and extra work for both staff and volunteers in our mailing center.

Hope for the future
The WELS Prison Ministry staff and Prison Ministry Committee members are working hard to find both short- and long-term solutions to these challenges. Several approaches appear worth pursuing. It is obvious that eventually a significant portion of the correctional facilities in the U.S. will have some form of electronic service for their inmates to deliver messages and material. A portion, especially county jails and other smaller facilities, will also likely retain the direct use of U.S. Mail for their inmates. As a result, in the relatively near future we may need both volunteers who support our historic ministry-by-mail approach as well as volunteers that enable us to supply our Bible studies and pen pal letters to inmates electronically. Our ultimate hope is that the electronic delivery options provide the opportunity to reach many more inmates, especially if the electronic delivery costs are lower than the costs for printing, envelopes, postage, and the other ministry-by-mail costs. We will keep everyone posted on our progress both in this newsletter and on our website—wels.net/pm.

 

 

Ways to support our ministry – Winter 2022

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: guidance for efforts to communicate with inmates digitally; for continued improvement in the pandemic situation so that personal visits to correctional facilities become commonplace; for blessings on the 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, 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.

 

 

 

Parents Behind Bars

Parenting is a tough job! It looks easy from afar, but not so much when you have to make the decisions and solve the problems in real life.

Imagine being a parent long distance. You have very limited and irregular contact with your children, who are being raised by someone else. Because of your separation, your kids view you with suspicion or anger, or doubt your love for them. You live with regrets and guilt and bouts of depression, all complicated by legal difficulties.

Very excellent book . . . You covered all the bases and in the gray areas you gave it to God. This study brought tears to my eyes.

Thomas, inmate

This could, in part, describe a military family with a parent on deployment, or a family broken by divorce. But only a parent who is incarcerated faces all the above challenges.

WELS Prison Ministry has added a new booklet, Parenting from Prison, to the 23 other titles in its Level 1 Self-Study series. Inmates can request a Bible study, complete a final test, return it for correction, and then request another topic.

Parenting from Prison revisits the root of the problem: the first sin by our first parents. That transgression separated them from their Heavenly Father, leaving them in a prison of pain and regret for having ruined the relationship. But God was determined to restore the father-child trust, which he achieved by sending his only Son.

Incarcerated parents are directed throughout the volume to focus on Jesus and his grace. They are also advised to be honest about their feelings; to be realistic about the challenges; to address their stress by talking with others; and to be patient, trusting God to accomplish what they cannot.

Practical, common-sense, straight forward approach. Teaches how to overcome obstacles of separation, and build a solid plan for the future. Doesn’t belittle or talk down to prisoners, but helps recognize past mistakes, discourage self-doubt, and foster relationships of growth in faith, love, understanding and forgiveness. Thank you for loving me with the truth!

Kelly, inmate

Simple suggestions are offered for communicating with children, such as weaving God’s Word into letters and phone calls; being truthful about mistakes that were made; consistently expressing their love for their sons and daughters; inquiring about events in their lives; and using positive words in all their interactions.

A chapter is devoted to what happens upon release and reunion. The parent in custody will have to readjust to freedom and responsibility, but the entire family will need to readjust their thinking, their behavior, and their priorities when mom or dad returns home. That calls for patience, love, wisdom, and forgiveness by everyone involved.

The study closes with a look at what the Bible says about parenting, including a study of Moses’s mother, Jochebed, and what we can learn from her.

Do you know any parents who are incarcerated? You can submit their contact information to WELS Prison Ministry at wels.net/refer. Please ask the Lord to bless this new resource, helping mothers and fathers to do what is possible in a task that seems impossible: parenting from prison.

By Pastor David Rosenbaum, Prison Ministry publications editor

 

 

 

Finding Peace

How do you define the word “peace?” There are many ways, including “the absence of conflict,” or “a feeling of serenity,” or “quietness.” So what does Jesus mean when he says: “I leave my peace with you. I give my peace to you. I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIrV).

The second half of the verse gives us Jesus’ meaning. He doesn’t want us to be troubled or afraid. So why does it seem I’m almost always anxious or fearful about something? That’s because I still carry around my original sinful nature that hates following Jesus. Apostle Paul talked about this in Romans 7:19, “I don’t do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don’t want to do.” I don’t want to be anxious or afraid, but part of me can’t help it. It’s always going to believe the devil’s lies that God does not love me, isn’t strong enough to help me, or just doesn’t care.

But Jesus shows us his way out. Let’s turn to Roman’s 7:24-25: “What a terrible failure I am! Who will save me from this sin that brings death to my body? I give thanks to God who saves me. He saves me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Jesus doesn’t just give us peace; he IS our peace. When fearful thoughts attack you, and they will, remember two things. First, remember how much Jesus loves you. My favorite verse for this is Romans 5:8: “But here is how God has shown his love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Second, remember the trouble is temporary. I have two favorites for this. John 16:33b “In this world you will have trouble. But be encouraged! I have won the battle over the world” and 2 Corinthians 4:17 “Our troubles are small. They last only for a short time. But they are earning for us a glory that will last forever. It is greater than all our troubles.”

God says “Don’t be afraid” over 300 times in the Bible. He knows we need to hear it constantly. It has been said: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act despite the fear.” Let’s live our lives for and with Jesus despite any fear in our hearts. What are some actions that can help focus on Jesus instead of fear? Here’s a few:

  • Live one day at a time (Matthew 7:34). Plan, but don’t dwell on worst case “what ifs.” Focus on serving Jesus today and cross tomorrow’s bridge when you get there.
  • Trust Jesus to provide the grace needed to endure any temptation to fear, but not until you need it (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • Memorize scripture to recall when you need to replace fearful thoughts with Jesus’ promises. Some candidates include the verses above, Psalm 23, Romans 5:3-5, 8:18, and 8:37-39, Hebrews 13:5-6 or use your own personal favorites.

He will give us true peace as we need it now, and perfectly in eternity.

 

 

 

Check out new resources for volunteers and congregations

The Prison Ministry Committee has made several resources available recently to people who desire to get involved with or make others aware of our ministry. Here’s a quick summary.

NEW TRAINING MODULE:
MENTORING A RETURNING CITIZEN
This video-based training resource helps church leaders prepare their members to mentor people returning to the community from incarceration. Mentoring returning citizens can be an effective way for a Christian to put faith into words and actions. It can be found at welscongregationalservices.net/mentoring-a-returning-citizen.

PRISON MINISTRY AWARENESS & COMMUNICATE TO THE NEXT GENERATION
We completed two resources recently that are available at: welscongregationalservices.net/prisonministryawareness.

  • Worship planning resources for a Prison Ministry Sunday emphasis: A planning sheet is available for a service focused on Prison Ministry with suggested hymns, psalm, and prayers, together with a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:16,17.  A few stories and comments from inmates that have benefited from our Bible studies are included at the end of the sermon sheet.
  • Sunday School/Lutheran Elementary School lesson based on Onesimus and Philemon to emphasize welcoming into God’s family those with troubled backgrounds. The lesson contains student and leader sheets for four grade levels (PreK- Grade 6).

These new materials work well for a Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday or event at your congregation or school. The promotional resources make both adults and children aware of the mission potential of WELS Prison Ministry and to cultivate concern for the lost. Church or school leaders may use them as part of a mission project where offerings will be designated for this work.

These promotional resources can also lay the foundation for preparing congregation members to serve the people in a local correctional facility with the Word, or to mentor people returning to the community from incarceration. More resources to assist congregations with awareness and acceptance are under development and will be added to the WELS Congregational Services website soon.

 

 

 

 

Golden Opportunities

The Prison Ministry Committee (PMC) understands that our ministry is at a crossroads. Methods used to deliver the gospel to inmates are changing. Inmates are communicating less frequently via US Mail. More inmates are being given access to electronic communication (similar to e-mail) as well as other services such as book or music downloads to tablets that the inmates own. Our ministry needs to adapt to this new environment. Frequent opportunities to share Law and Gospel with many more inmates nationwide are available if we can adapt our efforts to this new reality.

Produce devotions that support outreach to people with little if any biblical knowledge.

  • Implement a system for distributing the devotions using electronic messaging services to inmates, such as JPay.com, GTL.net or CorrLinks.com (annual cost/inmate is $30-$120)
  • Test and implement a system using electronic messaging services to collect Bible study tests, return corrected tests, and exchange pen pal letters with inmates.
  • These opportunities will take an investment of both time and financial resources to develop. While we are seeking grant money from foundations to help, in the long term, individual designated gifts still form the backbone of our support. Your gifts are greatly encouraged and appreciated.

Finally, the WELS convention in July passed a resolution directing WELS to seek to fund a larger portion of WELS Prison Ministry from regular operating funds (Congregation Mission Offerings). This resolution does not guarantee more synodical funding for our work. It starts a process of discussion with the Synodical Council (SC), which oversees all synod spending and must approve any increase in support. The SC will give us an opportunity, probably in November, to make the case for increased support from the synodical budget or other sources. The SC could reduce support of some other ministry to fund prison ministry, find some other way to help, or decline to increase our support.

With changes in the environment of our ministry, we are grateful that the Lord continues to provide generous gifts from donors and organizations to meet the new opportunities for outreach right now. Only Jesus knows whether we will receive a future increase in budgetary funding, but it’s his ministry. We are excited and press on with the work!

 

 

 

Notes from New Ulm

Test Correctors: Several of our booklets have been updated and reprinted with new final tests. Amy and Beth in the ministry mailing center are making sure everyone has all the necessary answer sheets. Because many booklets are mailed in bulk, it can take a long time for all of them to be given to inmates. The answer sheet packets being sent contain each version of the test answers. Thanks for taking care to ensure that the inmates get the best possible experience when they submit a test. Using the correct answer sheet is vital so you can comment positively when you need to kindly redirect them to correct answers that they miss.

Pen Pals: Some newer volunteers may not be aware that we urge them to resist the desire to send stamps or other items of value with your pen pal letters. Although this may seem like a simple kindness, some facilities consider these items contraband. Because the letters come through WELS Prison Ministry to safeguard your personal information, our whole ministry of sharing God’s Word with inmates at those facilities could be jeopardized. Your discipline helps us continue to share “the one thing needful.”

Local donations: Some donation drop-offs still occur at the Washington Street location that may soon be removed. Please drop off any donations in the bench outside our current office. Call 507-354-3130 between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m. on weekdays for our office address.

 

 

 

Introducing Mark Salzwedel

Meet Mark Salzwedel, the newest member of the Prison Ministry Committee. Mark replaces Leon Brands who served on the committee for several years (Thanks, Leon!). Mark is a graduate of the WELS Congregational Assistant Program and has served a number of leadership positions at his home congregation in Eden Prairie, Minn. He has been involved in coordinating and teaching incarcerated individuals for over ten years at a nearby prison in Shakopee, Minn. Mark’s professional background in software development brings key insight to the Prison Ministry Committee as we seek to enhance our ministry to inmates using digital delivery systems, such as messaging and video, while keeping our ministry-by-mail strong.

 

 

 

Three ways to support our ministry – Fall 2021

Pray – As God’s redeemed children, our prayers are powerful and effective. Current prayer requests: guidance for efforts to communicate with inmates digitally; for continued improvement in the pandemic situation so that personal visits to correctional facilities become commonplace; for blessings on the newly 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, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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