Today, we are told that there is a record number of inmates in America's jails and prisons. Statistics show that our incarceration rate of over 700 per 100,000 is the highest in the world.
One has to wonder if it is because of our diligent rule of law that convicts a greater number of perpetrators. The general corruption that goes unpunished in many countries would, no doubt, outpace the U.S. if everyone had to pay for their crimes.
Nevertheless, these sad statistics are a huge challenge to the church. Present prison ministries find many open hearts when they care enough to develop this fruitful mission field that is so easily accessible.
One of the most successful prison ministries for the last several decades is Mission Possible in Inverness, Florida. A story relayed by Chaplain Allan Woody is of a death row prisoner. He remembered the cloud of despair was thick in the cell row of prisoners waiting execution. As Chaplain Woody walked by each cell, he would be asked, "Are you coming to see me?" The despair in the voices tore at his heart but he had been cleared to only see a specific one.
Once in the cell with the inmate, he spent an hour discussing how to gain peace with God and hope for eternity. As he prepared to leave, assuring the inmate of his prayers as he awaited his day, the inmate replied, "Brother Woody, everybody is on death row. I just know my date."
The incident was early on in Chaplain Woody's ministry, but it settled in his spirit as a urgency to reach as many prisoners as possible. Over the years he placed hundreds of thousands of tracts, bibles and other literature in any prison where he could. Chaplain Woody has passed on, but is now rejoicing in heaven with some of those whom he guided into the Kingdom. His wife is continuing the ministry. She writes: "Many do not realize they are on death row and only the Savior can grant a pardon through His shed blood on Calvary."
The huge prison population in the U.S. means that there is probably one (or more) of these mission fields near you. Churches who really want to make a difference in their community will not overlook this opportunity. The loneliness and boredom of the men (and women) makes them super receptive to gospel literature and personal witness. By now, most know in their hearts that they are sinners, so are already on the first step to salvation.
Prison officials over the years have spoken approvingly of the effect of Chick tracts on the atmosphere of the prisons. Engaging stories laced with powerful scriptures makes for a must-read delivering a no-nonsense gospel message. Some have testified that it took several exposures to the message before their hearts surrendered. But the illustrations lodged in their memory, tugging away more powerfully when despair was the darkest.
Soul winners, dare we ignore this opportunity to share Christ's peace and joy? Dare we face Him on judgment day if we don't?