Churches Send Their Pastors To Jail
“To whom it may concern,
“I would like to thank you deeply for the . . . Bible I received from Pastor Bruce on your behalf. It is really informative for a young Christian as myself growing in the Word. . . . Being incarcerated where most forgot about us, or cast us out as misfits, you were there, and the Lord has many blessings in store for you. . . .”
This from Inmate #9425646 of the San Jose Main Jail is from one of many letters from prison. They stir the spirit of anyone who is concerned about the Kingdom coming to others.
You Were There!
Two of our coastal congregations are developing prison ministries. A year ago Ascension of DuPont (Tacoma, Wash. area) sent Pastor Wayne Eichstadt to the Federal Penitentiary on McNeil Island. Group meetings were held in a room next to a recreation hall where a noisy bingo game was likely to be a major distraction. Difficult circumstances, yet there were always some willing ears for the Word.
Since July 1995 Pastor Paul Naumann has been serving Ascension. The congregation wants him to continue the prison ministry. He is preparing for certification at monthly orientation meetings.
San Francisco Bay Area
The program of St. Stephen in Mountain View started in March 1994 when Pastor Bruce Naumann had lunch with the Director of Volunteers for the county. Initially there were one-on-one interviews with inmates requesting a visit by a clergyman. This led to regular Sunday evening classes in the day rooms of two high security floors in the Main Jail. Depending on how many men are released from their cells by the Commanding Officer, from seven to thirty-five attend the meetings.
For whatever reason they might come, they get to hear the Gospel–currently from studies in Luke, where Jesus is portrayed as the Savior of ALL, with special attention given to the socially outcast.
The Glad Response It is always difficult (and sometimes dangerous) to evaluate the results of gospel ministry. Especially in the touch-and-go environment of modern imprisonment. One must marvel, however, that the Spirit manages to do His calling and gathering even in such tough and often hardened circumstances. Eight prisoners have been moved to confess Christ as Lord and be baptized. Enough to alarm the Director who feared that someone might request immersion baptism! Restriction followed. When another man wished to be baptized our pastor found a way. A previously baptized inmate was equipped for this. He then was able to baptize the new candidate in his cell.
The Gospel will not be hindered.
One of the best things about prison ministry is the opportunity it provides for others to share in the work. Work that is essential. For newborn faith needs much nourishment and fraternal encouragement. St. Stephem Women’s Auxiliary and members of a weekday morning Bible class have committed themselves to 1) intercessory prayer; 2) purchase of Bibles; 3) participation in an Inmate Instruction Program.
The instruction program is, of course, by correspondence (“first names only”). The letters convey the pastor’s course materials with personal encouragement and prayer. Sometimes the message exchanges continue for a surprising time. In one case, for example, the address has changed to San Quentin, a federal prison, where a grateful inmate faithfully answers his mail.
A Satisfying Mission
The western churches now sending their pastors to jail are fully convinced that this is a most promising kind of ministry, especially for smaller churches that enjoy the services of pastors who are well-suited to this unique kind of outreach.
It does not take much money. It allows for meaningful involvement by church members. It frequently receives a warm, grateful welcome.
“You were there!” — A letter from jail.
“I was in prison and you visited me.” — Jesus.
–Rollin A. Reim, Reporter