In his latest blogpost Philip Yancey reflects on his experience at the recent conference of Prison Fellowship International (PFI). For those unfamiliar with PFI, they minister in over 120 countries to prisoners, ex-prisoners, victims and their families. Their vision is to bring restoration and reconciliation into the lives of those involved in and affected by crime. I imagine this wouldn't be easy anywhere, and sometimes they're active in prison conditions that, in Yancey's words, "rival Nazi concentration camps."
|Ron Nikkel, President of PFI, has visited more prisons than anyone else in history.|
What drives PFI volunteers to do what they do? Most at the conference "insist they do it because Jesus commanded it," says Yancey. "Announcing his mission, [Jesus] included the goal to 'liberate the captives' [Luke 4:14-20] and he said in Matthew 25 that God will judge the nations on how we cared for 'the least of these,' including prisoners."
So how are our nations doing on caring for prisoners? Not so good, says PFI President Ron Nikkel, who has probably visited more prisons than anyone else in history. Nikkel has an interesting opinion about what it takes to bring down crime, and I encourage you to read his thoughts in Yancey's post.
The passion of Nikkel and the volunteers crept under my skin. One commenter says aptly, "It's the kind of stuff that gives you goosebumps – that someone has decided to not forget about prisoners, someone has decided to not write them off as either too far gone or not worth ministering to."
Yancey concludes his post with a provocative aside: we can't tell the Christian story without including prisoners. There's John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, the thieves crucified next to Jesus, and Jesus himself. If I noticed this before, then I forgot it. I also tend to forget that every century since then has seen prisoners and martyrs of the faith; and too often I forget that some studies say as many as 1 in 31 American adults are on probation or incarcerated. So PFI got me thinking about some things. They take a hard road when they refuse to write people off as "too far gone" or "not worth ministering to," and I'm thankful for their service.
You can learn how to get involved in PFI's ministry at pfi.org.
(-Adam Forrest, Zondervan Internet Team)
PS: Have you ever read a life-changing book from a Christian who has been to prison? I know a lot of people who love the prison writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I recommend Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's masterful history The Gulag Archipelago.