This year, WELS Prison Ministry celebrates its 25th anniversary. This ministry provides Christian materials and education to jail and prison inmates. Since its start, WELS Prison Ministry has served more than 80,000 people in 1,300 different facilities by mail and in person.
Helmed by the volunteer efforts of the Organization of WELS Lutheran Seniors (OWLS) and WELS Special Ministries, this area of institutional ministry formally began in 1993. Its work originally targeted incarcerated WELS members, but it began to reach non-WELS inmates over time as well. By 1999, the program had expanded so rapidly that a full-time administrator was called. The ministry is currently headquartered in New Ulm, Minn., and much of its work is still completed by volunteers.
In August 2018, WELS welcomed the newest Prison Ministry administrator, Mr. David Hochmuth. A former civil engineer, Hochmuth served as a staff minister of spiritual growth at St. Andrew, Middleton, Wis., for 11 years before accepting the call.
“It is such a fruitful field for evangelism,” Hochmuth says. “Many people in prison understand that they face problems and that they are in need of help. The Spirit moves them to be honest about their situation. It is a great avenue for learning about the truth of Jesus.”
Hochmuth quotes Matthew 25:36 when explaining his motivation and interest in leading this ministry: “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Prison Ministry has evolved significantly over the past 25 years.
“It has developed into more than sending Bible study booklets to inmates,” explains Mr. Leon Brands, former WELS Prison Ministry Committee chairman. “There’s been increased interest and concentrated efforts to involve more WELS members in face-to-face ministry.”
Hochmuth adds that technological improvements have also allowed ministries to share God’s Word via digital Bible studies and other courses.
Brands is optimistic about the future of Prison Ministry. “The prayer of the Prison Ministry Committee is that the new administrator, Dave Hochmuth—with the help of others—is able to expand and develop better training for individuals who want to go into facilities, and also develop some aftercare and mentoring programs for both released inmates and their families.”
In the future, Hochmuth says he also hopes to provide the staff of jails and prisons with the spiritual support they need, among other new services. Yet he recognizes that Prison Ministry faces a daunting task and must establish clear priorities in order to serve effectively and efficiently.
“There are over two million people behind bars in our country. As a relatively small church body, our resources may seem inadequate,” says Hochmuth. “But two fish and five loaves seemed inadequate for the task too.”
To learn more about WELS Prison Ministry, contact David Hochmuth at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to the Special Ministries e-mail newsletter His Hands for the latest updates about Prison Ministry and other special ministries.
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