Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters….Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:1-3)
This is adapted from an article by a man who visited the prison with us. It first appeared in Frontlines, the newsletter of Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Katy, TX. That church generously supports Words of Hope. I reissue it now for new prayer partners. It gives a sample of our prison ministry.
Beauford H. Jester III Unit in Richmond, TX is a Texas State Prison, serving many medical patients. Knowing about Bob Roane’s work here, I was curious and asked to tag along one night. He heartily agreed and got me approved to enter. I asked what I needed to do, bring, and wear. Bob told me to dress casually, but don’t wear white since men in prison all wear white and we don’t want to be mistaken for one of them. We left our wallets and phones locked in our cars, taking in only Bibles, study materials, and IDs.
At the gate, a plastic bucket was lowered from one of the lookout towers guarding the entrance. We dropped in our licenses and they were raised to the guard above who signed us in and returned our cards. We entered a set of double gates—designed to prevent someone from escaping past an entering visitor—and signed in again at the main building. The heavy jail door looked almost cartoonish with its thick, heavy bars that ran up and down the length. Once inside we walked down a hallway to the education wing, passing a dispensary and security cages. Offenders (that is the term they use, not inmates or convicts) waiting in line for meds or treatments eyed us curiously as we walked by. About a third were in wheelchairs or using canes, a result of injury or illness.
In the classroom sat thirty men of various ages and ethnicities, all wearing the same white shirt, pants, and sneakers. As I walked around and introduced myself, I was warmly greeted by each of them, telling me their name and that they were happy I had come. I immediately felt welcome.
Dr. Roane started the class with prayer and then answered a question one man asked the previous week about remarrying after divorce. Bob provided a handout and he used it to carefully exegete God’s views on marriage and divorce from Scripture. It was well crafted and answered the question fully for the men, many who had seen their families crumble when they were incarcerated. We then stood to sing hymns. “O For a Thousand Tongues” was first. Without accompaniment, the men sang with all their hearts. The second hymn was “It is Well With My Soul.” One young man shouted out, “This is my favorite!” and the group sang with even more gusto and vigor than before. Bob stopped us before the final verse, reminding us that older hymns often have a climactic message of God’s good news and future hope in Heaven in the last stanza. He reminded us that “we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”1 The men shouted “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” I never sang that wonderful song so loudly and enthusiastically. That was a treat!
Then we watched the companion video to the study, The Bible in 90 Days. Offenders read the Scriptures, all 66 Books, cover to cover, in just 12 pages a day, and then come to watch the video which reviewed the high points. After the video, we broke into smaller groups for discussion and I tagged along with Bob’s group to a classroom.
Huddled around tables, Bob began fielding questions from the men. They asked tough questions about God forgiving and restoring people in Bible times who had committed every sin in the book. It was a great opportunity to remind them and us (volunteers from the free world) of Scriptures like these:
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy…But if we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin….If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:5-10)
A robust discussion among the men broke out about how to interact wisely with Muslims and Muslim outreach events at the prison. I realized that many of these men know their Bibles incredibly well and treat God’s word with the respect and reverence it deserves. Together, without much help from Bob, the other offenders led a man, young in the faith, away from error, and he thanked them for their help. This Scripture was rattling round in my head, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”2
This same young offender stated that he heard a voice during trying times saying, “Do Not Fear; Trust Me,” and asked Dr. Roane if this was God speaking. I sat back and chuckled to myself, “Okay Bob, let’s see how you swing at this pitch!” Surprisingly, Bob passed the question to the group. Although their denominational views peeked out, all of the other offenders concluded that if this voice or any other “voices” conflict with Scripture, they definitely are not from the Lord. If the “voice” agrees with Bible, we should take it as the Holy Spirit illuminating His written word for us.
Promptly at 8:30PM, class ended, the men got up, and we parted ways. I shook hands with each of them and they thanked me for coming. I turned and thanked them for letting me be a part of this evening. I realized very strongly how blessed I am to leave this place, go home to my wife and kids, and sleep in my own bed. I felt uneasy, knowing that before God’s holiness, I am as wicked or more so than these men I shared time with. They’re paying for some of their sins by being isolated from family, friends, and civilization. But they still hold on to their joy that Christ the Savior who became a prisoner for us, freed them from their spiritual prison, and that they will one day share the ultimate freedom of a new life in Heaven in full fellowship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and with all Jesus’ followers. I was enriched by this evening! If you are able, I recommend you make the same kind of visit to a prison as I did. You will not leave unchanged, I can assure you.
Note: After being out of Jester III Prison for over a year because of Covid-19, we are back there teaching on “Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny,” using the Bible study book and DVD by Dr. Tony Evans. Please pray for the men attending class. Ask the Lord to give salvation to the unconverted, His growth in Christ-likeness for His followers, and His enabling the believers to reach out to and serve others for Jesus’ kingdom in prison and when they are released. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16 NLT)
Notes: 1 Titus 2:13. 2 Proverbs 27:17.