Unlocking Hearts

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Local churches minister to those in prison

Story By Lauren Dowdle

Photos Contributed

Behind bars, locked away and often forgotten, prison inmates are in desperate need of the Gospel and genuine relationships.

Jesus made that clear in the New Testament: “I was in prison, and you came to visit me … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” Matthew 25:36, 40.

And many churches throughout Shelby County are ministering to the least of these through prison ministries.

“Prison ministry is important,” says Jeremy Miller, prison chaplain and member of The Church of Brook Hills. “You read about it in Matthew in the same chapter about orphans and the homeless. The church is needed to go and offer hope.”

While Miller works at the prison every day, church members visit and serve in the ministry once a month. During the visits, they incorporate the inmates into the worship service, with both the members and prisoners preaching at times. Miller says their goal is to glorify God by mobilizing the church inside and out of prisons.

“These men are as low as you can get: They are at the bottom,” Miller says. “The only way to give them hope is if we offer it to them.”

There are often misconceptions people have about prisoners, so Miller encourages people to approach the ministry inside a prison just like they would if they were talking to someone on the street.

“These men are incarcerated, and their egos have already been stripped away. Many of them struggle with self worth,” Miller says. “We don’t want them to feel like they are being talked down to. You should be real with them. They want to feel accepted for the way they are. They want to be taught just like they would if they were at church on a Sunday.”

Miller encourages those interested in getting involved with a prison ministry to join a local church or group, instead of going by themselves. There are several throughout the county.

“Just be real,” says Miller, who also shares prison ministry stories and podcasts on his site, Thehopeforlife.com. “Be who you always are and that will show them you care.”

Focusing on life after incarceration, The Church at Brook Hills also works with Shepherd’s Fold, which provides homes and support for men and women re-entering society.

“The church provides meals, mentorship and relationships,” says Jack Hausen, president of the board and a member of The Church of Brook Hills.

The men and women who participate in the ministry have been incarcerated and are currently on parole. The majority of the people they work with have served 17 to 34 years in prison, Hausen says.

“It gives them the opportunity to move forward in their lives,” Hausen says. “Faith-based programs like ours give them a greater opportunity to succeed, rather than going back to their old stomping grounds and possibly committing crimes again.”

Of the people who get out of prison, about 60 percent of those will end up being incarcerated again — but that number goes down to 10 percent for those who go through this program, Hausen says.

Shepherd’s Fold has mandatory meetings on insightful topics like recovery and anger management. “It’s not just about having a place to stay,” Hausen explains. “If you come, you’re also going to get information on being a productive citizen.”

iStock_000060499006_LargeThe ministry includes current participants and graduates, and it has about 50 people there at a time.

The whole group from Shepherd’s Fold comes together each Tuesday at 6 p.m. for a casual dinner at Celebrate Freedom. The dinner is at Grace and Truth Church’s Kairos Kafe. Learn more about the ministry at Brookhills.org/missions/local/category/prison-ministry.

Other churches use an even sweeter approach to ministering. Asbury United Methodist Church brings cookies to inmates through their Kairos Prison Ministry. Homemade cookies show the inmates that someone cares and is thinking of them.

Asbury holds Kairos weekends throughout the year where about 30 team members meet with 42 inmates. Others who don’t attend can participate by baking the treats.

Due to prison policies, the cookies can’t have icing or other coating on the outside of the cookie. They should also not contain fruit.

The church suggests baking cookies like oatmeal, peanut butter, molasses, chocolate chip, ginger and sugar. They even include suggested recipes on the Kairos ministry site, Asburyonline.org/kairos.

Meadow Brook Baptist Church also has a team that visits and leads worship monthly at area prisons. This has been a good way to build relationships and introduce the love of Christ to inmates.

The church also ministers to groups like Community of Hope Children’s Hospital, Shelby Christmas Gift Shop, Jimmie Hale Ministry and Shelby Ministry Center. Learn more at Meadowbrookbaptist.org/missions/local-missions.

Another local church that reaches out to those in prison is Church of the Highlands. They work to plant local churches inside the walls of the prison and then take small groups inside the prison to help lead the groups.

The church as a whole is currently ministering in 11 prisons and has more than 50 different serving opportunities each week.

There are a wide variety of prison ministries throughout Shelby County, and for those who can’t participate, prayers are greatly appreciated.

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering,” Hebrews 13:3.

 

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