WM Series: Far Beyond Prison Walls Part Two | Women

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WM Series: Far Beyond Prison Walls Part Two

Prison gates
Posted July 11, 2017

For over ten years, I was part of a team of Christians that spent Saturdays in the prisons of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

While these hour-long sessions were no doubt transformative, they were often not long enough to meet the need for connection and address the desperate loneliness of the men imprisoned within the walls. They so longed to hear and see and feel more of the love of Jesus Christ.

Prison is one of the world's most isolating environments. And so, sensing this deep, intense need for community and spiritual relationship that these incarcerated men had in the depths of their spirits, I began writing them letters.

(Click through to these links if you missed the Intro and Part One to this WM Series: Far Beyond Prison Walls)

A picture paints a thousand words

This wasn't primarily a social thing, but a point of spiritual contact.

I wanted them to know that they were loved by Jesus, seen by God and had the opportunity for regenerated new life, wherever they may be... even while still in prison.

I first began writing using plain pad paper, but soon decided I would make more personalized cards.

I took photos to glue on the front - sunsets, sunrises, animals, flowers, the beach and the like. This small act of thoughtfulness brought a little of the outside into the ‘inside’ for the men. They responded to the kindness, and I loved being able to minister in this way.

Unfortunately, after a couple of years, anything laminated or glued was forbidden to enter the prisons! I had to instead make do with $1 store-bought cards.

Initially this was a setback - but actually this opened the way for the four elderly women in my church who decided they would support the letter writing by supplying me with financial support to buy all the cards, envelopes, and stamps!

These incredible women were dearly loved by myself and the men for their input and ministry towards us… it was very special to see God touch their hearts and allowing them to be involved in this way. What generosity Christians can have! 

Praise God... he is so good! I quickly came to understand how much a letter could mean to someone.

I just want to say 'I love you'

Even with all the be benefits of modern day technology like wireless internet and instant messaging - I think you'll agree there really is no substitute for a hand written letter.

It somehow brings a personal dimension to it that these other things cannot achieve. There is a sense of articulated care and the precious time involved - when we each are so busy and rushed off our feet, writing something as simple as a letter actually signals a deep commitment to the person who receives it.

I loved the spontaneous things the men would write and the often childlike joy at having something arrive in the post… for them! I sent crossword puzzles to one man for three years until his release. He told me later that it was great to have something to look forward to and to have someone who cared enough to send them.

Will you follow the Lord who loves you?

One of the first men I wrote to was imprisoned for a long period of time, and I could tell he was lonely. I wrote about the love of God, and sent him a small Christian leaflet explaining how to follow Jesus and the opportunity to sign your name if you wanted to commit yourself to the Lord.

After a small while, I got a letter back, opened it, and out fell the leaflet I had sent!

‘Oh dear.’ thought I, ‘He hates it, and has returned it!’

But upon reading his letter, I saw that he had written ‘Thanks for the leaflet, I have received Jesus as Saviour, and signed the form, and I wanted you to see I have done it.’

That was six years ago, what a thrill - this man has gone so well on his journey in prison, and is due to be released later this year! We still correspond, and I am still his only link to the outside. I am very proud of who he has become in Jesus. Praise the Lord!

A solid testimony of God's grace

For the first time in my life I am happy, and I thank you - because it was your life story that gave me my faith back, and I will always be grateful.’ 'Thanks for the scriptures and leaflet. I have looked up in the Bible all you sent, thanks for this support.’ ‘The booklet you sent that you wrote, tells me how God loves me, and is full of encouragement...’

Are these not the words of men who feel seen, heard and loved? Sometimes our own morality or sense of squeamishness can set us 'apart' from the men and women who are locked up, without a hope, behind bars.

But Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:35-36: 'For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’

‘...the compassion and consideration, for the many men that you extend a sense of hope to within the confines of this prison... it really means a lot to us all.’

This next young man's comments were special to me. He was in for a very long time and I met him in a very pitiful state one visit and so asked if I could write to him.

He agreed, and in response to my first letter I wrote, he wrote: ‘Thanks for your letter, so full of love and life. You have a heart of gold and I love your talks. I'm not the only one here who feels that way, and your first letter was given to me just as I was leaving to be transported to my trial, and it gave me the strength, to see the day through.’

Declaring God's praise:

  • Your booklet... opened my eyes and has made it easier to follow the Lord.
  • I now believe and declare God's glory... it is like a weight lifted from me.
  • You and your brother Pete have played a part in me finding Christ again.
  • Your booklet has helped me love our Father more, and has given me encouragement.
  • Thanks for the card, it just gave me the push I needed to get through the day.
  • (Recieved one Christmas) It was a blessing to get your card, I do not have anyone to keep in touch with me and it was like God answered my prayer.

As I continued to write, men continued to respond to the grace of Jesus Christ and the loving care of this ministry. God calls us to minister in the darkest places, not just the well-lit foyers. Please, would you consider what it might look like to write letters and pray for the prisoners in your city?

I had a young man whose mum was ill with cancer thank me for my booklet about Jesus, and say he was passing it on to his mum. He did not have the best relationship with her, but now he had learnt to forgive and wanted to share the grace he had found!

I also had a man from a Mafia-type gang, who was sentenced to prison for a long time write simply ‘Thanks for sending me a blessing’. This was from someone I hardly know! It made me wonder 'Who am I, to receive such a thing?’

God continues to answer the prayers of his people on behalf of the voiceless, forgotten, lost and sinful creatures who he longs to restore through his son Jesus Christ and relationship with him - no matter where you are or who you were.

Pray for release

Many of these men will not get to see family, children, friends and loved ones for a very long time. Some of them may actually spend their whole lives locked behind walls and breathe their last breath inside a jail cell.

These are children of God, who he crafted for his own purposes - languishing, unvisited, unloved and unnoticed within our own country. There are currently (as of March 2017 statistics) 9,333 men and 702 women imprisoned in Aotearoa, New Zealand. That is 10,035 families affected by the loss of a loved on inside walls of a prison.

Jesus calls us to help the homeless, love the loveless and visit those 10,035 in prison (Matthew 25:36). Will you respond to the call?

Here are a list of Correctional Facilities in New Zealand: If there is a prison near your town or city, you might like to find more information about it... and would you consider praying for it?

  • Northland Region Corrections Facility
  • Auckland Prison
  • Mt Eden Corrections Facility
  • Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility
  • Auckland South Corrections Facility
  • Spring Hill Corrections Facility
  • Waikeria Prison
  • Tongariro Prison
  • New Plymouth Remand Centre
  • Whanganui Prison
  • Hawke's Bay Regional Prison
  • Manawatu Prison
  • Rimutaka Prison
  • Arohata Prison
  • Christchurch Men's Prison
  • Christchurch Women's Prison
  • Rolleston Prison
  • Otago Corrections Facility
  • Invercargill Prison

Next week, I will be releasing a simple list of prayers that you, your family and Corps or center or group might like to pray over the prison population. My time in prison ministry has been such a ride, but the best stories I have saved for last - so don't forget to catch the final episode next week.




By Betty Thompson

WM Author