“Then the King will say to those on his right… ‘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 invited me in, 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…’” (Matthew 25:34-36).
An often neglected portion of this passage from Matthew is the call to visit those in prison. Throughout my life I have participated in many clothing and food drives, visited the sick, and provided assistance to homeless shelters. As an OCF member, I also have seen numerous acts of charity and volunteerism focusing on all of those areas. In my own experience, however, ministry to those in prison has not been a focus—either inside or outside of the OCF community.
Recently when I visited an activities fair at our installation, a sign about prison ministry caught my attention. I was apprehensive, yet moved by the Holy Spirit to give the ministry a chance. Since then I have participated in a retreat day at the prison and shared my testimony with the inmates.
One of the most faith inspiring moments I have ever experienced happened while attending a worship service at that prison. This ministry is absolutely spectacular, and benefits not only those in prison but also the community that ministers.
Studies show that biblically based prison ministry has tremendous rehabilitative impact on inmates. In a Prison Fellowship study of 909 program participants who have been released from prison, 90 percent have mentors, 86 percent are involved with a church community, and 85 percent are gainfully employed.
Additionally, a University of Pennsylvania study that focused on a Texas program found that of those prisoners who completed their entire program, only 8 percent were re-incarcerated within a two-year period.
Conducting a prison visit is a powerful opportunity for OCF fellowships to consider. And prison visitation is directly in keeping with the mission of OCF in that these visits will “glorify God by uniting Christian officers for biblical fellowship and outreach, equipping and encouraging them to minister effectively in the military society.” There are military prisons scattered throughout the world, and any location that does not have a military prison undoubtedly has a civilian facility nearby.
Another way to minister to those in prison is to embark on a letter-writing campaign, including messages of faith-filled support and promise of prayers. Additionally, most prisons—and certainly military prisons—have a chaplaincy that might welcome donations of books and other Christian materials. There are endless possibilities for OCF members to conduct prison ministry outreach.