The pandemic that hit the world this year has put many ministries in the position of making quick decisions about how to reach people in a socially distanced world. WELS Prison Ministry was no exception when, suddenly, jail ministry visits were indefinitely suspended. No longer could Prison Ministry volunteers go into jails and prisons to share God’s grace with people who desperately needed to hear the good news, especially in a time of fear and uncertainty.
The Prison Ministry Committee got together to develop a plan to try to reach as many inmates as they could with God’s Word. In mid-July, the Prison Ministry Committee authorized a significant outreach effort to offer its Bible correspondence self-study booklets to more than 2,000 correctional facilities due to the interruption in personal visits.
The mailing list consisted of facilities with which Prison Ministry has had interaction in the past. Over 75 percent of the facilities that have received mailings in the past 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
Prison Ministry mailed a sample booklet and a brochure to the chaplains, activity directors, or program coordinators describing the booklets and inviting them to order free copies for the inmates at their institution. They sent 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.
The mailing is generating many new book orders. In the first four weeks the response has been over 36,000 booklets ordered by chaplains or others. In a typical year Prison Ministry has about 30,000 booklets printed. On average, the booklets cost about $1 each to print, plus shipping. Prison Ministry sends the Bible study booklets to inmates and facilities at no charge.
The Bible study booklets are the backbone of Prison Ministry’s ministry-by-mail program, which is facilitated by volunteers out of an office in New Ulm, Minn., as well as around the country. Each booklet has a Bible lesson and a test that inmates fill out and return to Prison Ministry. Then, a volunteer will correct the test, provide a message of encouragement, and send the next Bible study to the participant.
Reflecting on Romans 8:28 and how COVID-19 prompted unplanned initiatives for the ministry, Prison Ministry Administrator Mr. Dave Hochmuth, says, “People quote Romans 8:28 so much, ‘God is working for good,’ but God doesn’t promise that ‘the good’ is going to be our good. The good he’s doing might be for somebody else—and you might not see it. 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.”
Learn more about Prison Ministry’s outreach work and how to support it at wels.net/prison-ministry.