Every ministry partner, donor and friend – not to mention the ministry employees and leaders, wants to know if their work is successful. It is both common and appropriate to ask questions such as: “Are we fulfilling our intended purpose and mission?” “Are lives being positively impacted by our work?” “Is my generosity/donation to this ministry having a measurable effect?” These are all legitimate questions and deserve answers.
To put these questions in a narrower context as they relate to Inmate Ministry Resources, Inc., I would ask you to consider carefully the following true story. The picture and story are used with permission, but the names have indeed been changed at the request of those involved.
I recently visited a local bank to conduct some routine business. While there the teller assisting me saw the name of our ministry and, lowering her voice, asked, “What do you guys do?” Because her tone and posture gave me a hint of what might be coming, and in consideration of the 20 or so people in line behind me on this busy day with only two teller windows open, I gave her a quick summary of the work of IMR.
She became slightly emotional but kept her composure as she said, “My Dad is in prison and has been for most of my life. He’s coming home in a few months and I’ll have to care for him since my Mom died. I have no idea what to do. Can you help?”
As they say in the movies, this was an open door you could drive a truck through. I said, “Of course. Let’s connect so my wife and I can hear your story and arrange a plan to help both you and your Dad. A few days later Deb and I shared dessert with this young lady as she poured out her heart. What follows is only a summary, but you will get the point.
Dad has been in and out of prison for the past 30 years. “Jane” is 24. When he was home, he openly kept a few girlfriends on the side even though he was still married to Jane’s Mom. Mom was married 5 times and had recently died of cancer. Jane has an older brother who is clinically depressed, so she is his primary caregiver as well. He only contact with church was at a young age when visiting her Christian grandmother. After granny’s death, though, Jane dropped out of church.
We learned that her Dad had become a Christian during the current 12-year sentence, but she had no first-hand knowledge of his current faith-walk. She was petrified of having to support a father she barely knew . . . and what she did know was a lifelong criminal. She literally could not risk a budding career by associating with a man – even her father – who could cause her progress and very survival great harm. How could we help?
Let me interrupt this narrative to say that “Jane’s” story is not unusual. In fact, it is all too common. The names and faces change, but there are thousands of these stories across America and around the world. But it was Jane sitting across the table from us.
As the evening progressed, we gently turned the conversation toward Jane herself and her need for stable, supporting friends. Jane is half the age of our own daughter. We began a trust relationship that has since flourished. We invited her to our church where we knew she would be welcomed, and she was indeed when she visited. I told he about our ministry to inmates like her father and got his contact information. Following up on that, her Dad (whom I’ll call “John”) and I have become pen pals. He is working his way through our reentry course Living On Purpose. He is also the recipient of IMR’s PrayerPal ministry, so he receives regular notes of encouragement from folks across America who will love him through their prayers and cards. When the time draws near, we will arrange housing, a job, tools if needed, help with transportation, food stamps, health care, banking and anything else John needs to get back on his feet. He will also become the focus of loving mentorship from several of our laymen at church who have a calling to love and lift up men just like John. He will not be shoved outside the prison gate upon his release only to be forgotten.
And Jane need not fear that her father will hurt her or become a burden to her. We’ll be very proactive in that reconciliation process.
With help from state prison officials John was recently moved to a prison in the same county where his daughter Jane resides. He will be there until his release next year. Men from our church have a regular ministry presence in this prison. They will get a head start in forming a bond with John.
Recently, Jane arranged to visit her Dad in prison. They had not seen each other in ten years! It was a cautious, but sweet reunion. She has since been back, and they are in regular contact now.
This is a story of God’s amazing grace. He still mends broken hearts and shattered relationships. His love heals past hurts and layers new compassion over old scars. Your continued prayer and financial support, your volunteer service as a faithful PrayerPal, your willingness to train as one of our effective facilitators and your sharing of our ministry story with your own church and community leaders . . . all make possible true stories of healing and reconciliation like John and Jane’s story.
Thank you. Thank you for making possible IMR’s ministry to people like these and so many others in county jails, state and federal prisons and community work release centers. Keep praying, keep giving, keep serving, and we’ll remain faithful to our calling as well.
And Jane will be back in church with us this Sunday.
Vice President of Administration