WM Series: Far Beyond Prison Walls Part One | Women

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WM Series: Far Beyond Prison Walls Part One

Prison gates
Posted June 20, 2017

This is part one in a three part series entitled 'Far Beyond Prison Gates' by our WM author Betty Thompson - detailing the highlights and deliverances of an over ten-year prison ministry.

If you missed the intro last week, click through to it here.

In 2005, after the passing of my husband of 38 years, I joined my church's Prison Ministry team. Three years into this unique, vital expression of my faith - my brother Pete also joined us in bringing the Good News to the incarcerated.

We had many challenges, growth moments and highlights over the ten years that I was in Prison Ministry. A few in particular really colour my memories!

Easter in a humble room

One Easter, we were given permission to bring an Easter banner into the prison. This in itself was unusual, because nothing was usually allowed past the gates.

Our banner depicted some hills, with three croses set against a deep blue sky. We hung it on a large wooden cross that the men themselves had made.

We then began to relate the Easter story, and at the conclusion we invited anyone who was a follower of Jesus to come forward and stand by the cross. In doing so, they could identify with their Saviour who hung on it and died because of his great love for them.

We waited for a response... and it was really humbling to see eight men come forward to the cross, and bow their heads. It was there in front of that homemade cross, in a humble room inside a prison, that we prayed with them.

A hand to my brother

On another occasion we spoke about supporting one another in the faith. We urged, as Paul did in the Bible - that those who were stronger were to encourage and help another person each day in some small way.

We then saw many men stand... and link hands across the room.

While this might not seem that significant - stop for a minute and remember where we were. These are not just everyday guys (many of whom would find it extremely uncomfortable to hold hands in any situation!).

These are men imprisoned - not for stealing a loaf of bread or a simple misdemeanour... but hardened criminals. Many of them were murderers, rapists, child-molesters, thieves, gang members and drug addicts.

When you consider this, you begin to see how God works in bringing about unity - even in the darkest places like prison.

Especially in the darkest places like prison.

Birds and the bees and the Macrocarpa tree

A very heartwarming story came about when one day my brother Pete shared his conversion with the men.

He related how at the age of 15, our Father called him in to sit on the couch for 'a talk'.

'Oh,' thought Pete 'here comes the 'birds and the bees'!'

Instead Dad simply told him the facts of salvation, and that he better do something about it. So later that day he chose to climb under a large Macrocarpa tree on our property, and ask the Lord into his life to be his Saviour.

As the men filed out at the end of our time with them, a very tall, powerfully built man (who simply towered over Pete) looked down at him and said... 'I just want you to know - I've had a Macrocarpa tree experience, here today'!

Isn't God awesome?!

Christmas special

One Christmas service in particular was precious to me.

The assistant chaplain had asked me to share a Christmas day service with him, and I sang 'O Holy Night, and chatted about the words and their relevance. Then a man asked me to explain the meaning of the cross in Christianity - he had no knowledge at all.

He didn't yet even know why it is used as our focal point! It was so cool to make him aware of Christ's journey from the stable to the cross that Christmas all those years ago, and the reason why.

The beautiful Gospel

The Lord also prompted me to write two booklets, especially catering to the men's needs, and helping them understand the Christian walk. In all, about 600 of each found their way into grateful hands. I had to laugh once - a man said to me 'I looked in your first booklet and said I am NOT reading that stuff, it is too close to home for me!'.

However, two weeks later he picked it up and loved it! He was using it for a study guide, and wrote asking me for 5 more to be sent to some of his cell mates.

While involved in this ministry, I designed and made over 700 crosses which I embellished and laminated with words of encouragement written on the cross. Oh, the men just loved these for book marks, to put on their notice board or swap around.

There were also the most beautiful painted corridors in the prison. I have had several lovely posters and items of artwork sent to me by the inmates, which I will always treasure. There is SO much talent, locked within these walls - talent that reflects the creative heart of the Creator - in whose image these men are each made.

More than a new tshirt

One day we were carrying out a small presentation for the men... and one of our team came into the chapel in a real flash jacket.

We discussed the value of good clothes - both for and against.  Everyone was impressed with the look of the jacket, until... off it came, to reveal underneath, a filthy, stained and torn t-shirt with large words scrawled on it: murder, lies, deceit, hate, unforgiveness, sexual crimes...

Wow. Under that nice jacket, all that garbage - hidden from friends and family BUT NOT FROM GOD! This filthy shirt was pulled off and flung away. It happened to land on an arm of the large wooden cross in the chapel... and you could have heard a pin drop.

Underneath was a snow white, new t shirt.

This powerful illustration showed the men that the sin we all tuck away and let grow - things we think no one sees - God sees. But after our repentance and acceptance of Christ's forgiveness, the Bible says we shall be 'whiter than snow' - Psalm 51:7.

He will exchange our torn, filthy rags for garments of shining righteousness. We have such a great hope in the life of Christ.

Our God is SO awesome, he blows me away daily... what about you?

Join us next week for Part 2 of the WM Series: Far Beyond Prison Walls with our incredible writer Betty Thompson.


by Betty Thompson

WM author