Continuing our exploration of the Biblical teaching on the topic of Restoration, let's quickly review the major ideas presented in the previous blog. First, ALL Christians are commanded to proactively demonstrate the identical forgiveness we have received from God through Christ. As we'll see, our Lord does not suggest this; He commands it. Second, there are two primary players in the drama of restoration: the one(s) restoring (the "Restorer") and the one being restored (the "Restoree" – a made up word). Third, in the context of this series of blogs we are referring to Christians who have fallen through sin, had that sin exposed publicly, paid a high price in punishment, and are now seeking restoration through grace and mercy shown through the body of Christ.
In the immediately previous blog, I wrote about THE ONE PROVIDING RESTORATION and suggested a biblically based battle plan. Let's review those components and the Scriptural basis for each provision. Keep in mind the foundational principles of this argument are found in Galatians 6:1-2,
"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such
a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." NKJV
In the Galatians 6:1 passage above the verb "restore" comes from a Greek word which refers to setting a broken bone or repositioning a dislocated bone. Ponder what that implies: (1) The one broken cannot repair himself; he needs outside help; (2) Productive activity is either limited or impossible until the repair is made; and (3) There will be pain involved in order for healing to take place.
Perhaps some of you sitting on the bench should get in the restoration business. There are plenty of wounded warriors needing your encouragement and help. One need look no further than Christian inmates facing reentry and transition and the strong pull of recidivism. Offer a hand up, a word of encouragement. This may be as easy as becoming a PrayerPal with IMR. Go ahead: take the first step. You'll be amazed at how little light it takes to brighten a dark soul's life. Visit the "Get Involved" page of this website and step onto the battlefield. God will be honored, an inmate will be encouraged to seek the Lord, and you will be overwhelmed with blessing. Check it out NOW!
In the previous blog we discussed the Biblical principle of RESTORATION as a primary component of successful reentry and transition. The conviction was expressed that every mature Christian is called to the work of restoring the fallen. It is hard work, time consuming and the stronger, healthy Christian who answers the call to link hearts with a fallen, broken soul will face criticism. Yet, this is one of the most fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. Those of us who have tasted eternal forgiveness are commanded to show forgiveness in His Name. In the next blog I'll make a Biblical/theological case for this precept. For now, however, let's examine some of the practical steps in the restoration process.
THE ONE PROVIDING RESTORATION
Though every personal story is unique, there are common elements that are to be observed in successful restoration of a fallen one. In this blog we'll focus on a fallen Christian. Unbelievers who live in sin are simply living out their nature. We expect them to act out evil. When a professing Christian sins and that sin is made public, however, the "church" (Christians), must make a different response, one based on clear teaching of Scripture rather than cultural norms.
The one called to be proactively engaged in the restoration of a fallen believer must engage in the following battle plan:
Restoration is a process, not an event. Thus, this blog will pick up next time with specific Biblical references and principles to shore up those of you being called to the vital ministry of restoration. Meanwhile, pray for those of us at Inmate Ministry Resources as we engage in this battle daily. Prayerfully consider becoming a PrayerPal or partner with us financially. Just as Aaron and Hur did for Moses long ago, hold up our arms so the battle may go on.
In previous blogs we have discussed various topics related to inmates and their reentry and transition to civilian life. The process is never easy, many fail at the attempt and thus, recidivism rates are inexcusably high. However, there is a common thread to be observed among those inmates who succeed in the process. They are reunited with family and friends, become gainfully employed and their lives become models to other inmates who have vowed never to return to prison. Clear-thinking people want to know what makes the difference.
Frankly, there are many factors and we shall discuss them in coming blogs. For now, however, allow me to focus the spotlight on what I personally believe to be that rises above all others on the road to successful reentry and transition: Proactive Restoration.
Please do not confuse the term restoration with rehabilitation or even reconciliation. These are important, but distinct, components of a successful return to civilian life. Restoration embodies all the elements required for a return to wholeness. Healing, forgiveness, facing and overcoming adversity, mentorship, establishment of a successful support network – all are components of restoration.
There is a unique and especially powerful element, however, that is the focus of this blog.
Restoration is the calling and duty of every mature Christian.
When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Galatian Christians in the first century, he was addressing a fractured, divided and troubled group. They were becoming dysfunctional and facing the risk of diminishing or losing altogether important relationships. Their influence was waning as a result. The future looked dim. There were spiritual "failures" among members in the local church – much as there are today. So the wise apostle offered some timeless advice:
"Brothers, if any of you be overtaken in a fault (moral failure, sin, etc.), you who are spiritually mature restore someone like this." (Galatians 6:1)
There is more to the verse, but for now let's focus on these words and their direct meaning. First, failure is an occurrence common even among Christians. Followers of Christ sin from time to time. Some get caught now; others will be exposed later. None of us are immune from succumbing to temptation in its many forms. The original word used for "overtaken" implies someone tired from a long march who slows down and becomes easy prey for the enemy. Though it is sin nevertheless, this is not a picture of one who looks at temptation and says, "Whoopee! Let's turn our backs on God!" Rather, it is one who is worn out from a journey, whose resistance is low and whose endurance is shot. Fatigue makes us all vulnerable to stupid decisions. We've all been there.
Second, some failures are more public than others. The guy (or gal) in this verse is known to have failed. The whole church knows about it. Neighbors, family and friends are talking about it. The shame is public. Without a single exception, every inmate knows what this feels like. That's why they call it "public record."
Contrary to inner feelings and even public sentiment, however, hope is NOT lost! Paul addresses those who are spiritually mature, those who are "still standing". And he puts the burden of restoration squarely on the one standing, not on the one fallen. To our detriment, many believers have lost the conviction that we are indeed our brother's keeper.
In the familiar New Testament story of the Good Samaritan Jesus condemns the "religious" people for turning their noses up and ignoring the wounded man at their feet. An outcast, however, (the Samaritan) sees the man wounded and bleeding on the ground and decides to help. He gave both immediate and long-term help. He got his hands and clothes bloody from tending to this dying man. He spent time and effort to get him to a place of recovery. He spent his own money to ensure healing would occur.
One cannot become involved with a criminal with the intent to restore that one without taking some personal hits. Your motives and methods will be questioned. Spiritual snobs will turn on you.
Along the way, though, someone may be healed, and Jesus will smile. That makes the effort worthwhile.
More on the step-by-step process next time.
Bob Riddle, for Inmate Ministry Resources, Inc.
In a previous blog I told the true story of "Jane" and her father "John", real people with fictitious names whom we have been privileged to assist in the reentry and transition preparation process. As this is written we are all facing a very happy Easter celebration as we reflect on the work God has done in these hearts to bring about a healing of relationships.
As you might know, not all inmates are so fortunate. Rejection, shame, disrespect and various forms of disownership are far more frequent.. It takes a special brand of heart to love an inmate . . . or any other sinner for that matter. The Apostle Paul told his "son in the faith" Timothy that some men's sins go before them and some men's sins follow after (paraphrase). In a modern context Paul might have written, "the sins of some are very public while others get to hide their sins for a while." The sins of inmates are guaranteed to become very public and widely known indeed. And the record is permanent.
Thus, for those readers who celebrate Easter I have a friendly challenge: in view of the cross and its impact on your own life, are you open to loving a convicted criminal, even one you may never meet? If so, I have some practical steps you may take.
First, consider that if we have tasted the forgiveness of God personally we have been given a heart transplant. The new heart is fashioned after His own. Therefore, it becomes not only possible, but imperative that we love what He loves. That would include sinners.
Second, the consistent practice of Christ during his ministry as recorded in Scripture and continuing to this day is to seek out and draw the most unlikely of sinners to Himself. Not the rich and powerful (though they are not excluded), the politically connected, the pure and clean (of which there are none!), but sinners. Jesus was repeatedly condemned for having constant contact with and building relationships with well-known sinners. Are we to do less?
Finally, loving sinners is dangerous work. It may get you killed. Jim Elliott, Nate Saint, and 3 other young men went to love the Auca Indians in an Ecuadorian jungle and never came out alive, though they did not die in vain. Their widows went back to the same tribe and led the very chief to Christ who had ordered the murder of their husbands. Every day Christians around the world give their lives because they are unashamed friends of Jesus.
I count as heroes those who leave the comfort of home to live in a foreign culture in obedience to their calling to love those who have never heard the good news. Yet, there are inmates, both men and women, who may live in a "gated community" in your own town or county whose hearts would melt if they knew someone like you would love them. A simple PrayerPal card from you and supplied by this ministry has proven to make a huge difference in the lives of some of these forgotten sinners.
As you celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the new life offered by His sacrifice, grace and mercy, consider becoming a conduit of those gifts to those living in a dark place and in desperate need of light. visit www.inmateministryresources.com and ask for information on becoming a volunteer PrayerPal.. As Christ promised, you will get back far more than you give in love to these hurting folks.
The tomb is empty. Prisons and jails worldwide are full.. You could be a bridge between the two.
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
In recent posts we have addressed the serious problem in America of recidivism – the return of released inmates to prison after committing another crime, being arrested, convicted, sentenced and returned to prison within 3 years after their previous release. The high numbers posted by both state and federal government officials range from 35% to over 70%. This represents a massive failure of a broken system, all paid for by taxpayers blissfully unaware or uncaring that their dollars are propping up such a boondoggle.
The light is beginning to dawn on this matter, however, highlighted by President Donald Trump.
In his State of the Union address given to Congress in 2019 the President introduced Mr. Matthew Charles as his special guest. Charles was convicted and spent 21 years in prison for a nonviolent offense involving illegal drugs. Please note: nothing in this blog is intended to excuse or minimize the evil of crime. It is, however, intended to spotlight the inequality of current sentencing practices.
Matthew Charles spent 21 years in prison for this nonviolent offense. He gained an early release not because he had committed his life to Christ, completed over 40 Bible studies while an inmate and become a certified law clerk investing his time helping other inmates fight their legal battles. No – Charles was released because President Trump signed into law a bill that forced measures of reform in this broken correctional system. Though Charles is now a free man, however, his battles were not over, they simply shifted venues.
Charles has repeatedly been denied access to rental housing because of his criminal record. After 21 years in prison he did not have bad credit; he simply had no credit! Landlords refused to permit him the privilege of signing a lease, even when Kim Kardashian West offered to pay five years lease in advance!
Mr. Charles story is truly sad, but not isolated. Here at Inmate Ministry Resources (IMR) we deal with this story often. The names and faces change from case to case, but the multiple barriers preventing inmates from enjoying a successful and smooth reentry and transition back into society are persistent and pervasive.
So, let's change the dialogue from the problem to the solution. Instead of cursing the darkness we'll attempt to light a candle.
The Purpose and Mission of IMR is not prison reform. It is the transformation of one life at a time by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Such change is not only all inclusive – affecting the whole person; it is lasting. Eternal, in fact. No educational program, no rehabilitation courses, no new trade or vocational skills – as valuable as those components are to successful personal improvement, can cause permanent change from the inside out. Only a heart transplant can bring about a new life. Our Lord specializes in such transforming work.
The Bible says, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation! Old things have passed away; all things are becoming new." (II Corinthians 5:17) Thus, the Purpose and Mission of IMR is to:
Next time we will look at the specific steps being taken to implement this strategic plan. None of this would be possible, however, without your generous prayer and financial support. Visit the other pages of our website to learn more: inmateministryresources.com.
Vice President – Administration
Last time I addressed the true nature of recidivism which is by most standards out of control in many states. More importantly is the response IMR has taken in addressing this epidemic not through prison reform, but through the transformation of lives, one life at a time, through the power of Jesus Christ and His saving grace.
Still, many Americans are simply unaware of the practical obstacles facing newly-released inmates. Many reenter civilian life quite naive. Expectations are that, having "done the time to pay for the crime" they will be welcomed back into society and afforded immediate opportunities to "start over." Unfortunately, that is most often not the case. Even more difficult is the challenge facing men and women who have no support group upon their release – no family, no friends, no connection to a church. Sadly, where they will find an immediate welcome is among the criminal segment of our society.
The following is an excerpt from a well-written and researched news article addressing inmate reentry and transition to civilian life. I thought it worth sharing. The article is taken from Newsy.com and is used with permission.
For Monica Cooper, making it on the outside was tougher than she thought it would be. After spending more than a decade behind bars, Cooper came out of prison ready to rebuild her life. She finished college, earned a bachelor's degree to make herself marketable, and set out to find employment.
Monica isn't alone. The National Employment Law Project says an estimated 70 million people, or one in three adults, have a prior arrest or conviction record. And while many exit prisons ready to rejoin and contribute to their communities, they're often stopped by one little box. On an initial job application, many employers ask if applicants have been convicted of a felony. This forces many returning from incarceration to check yes, explain their conviction, or leave it blank.
Advocates say that pesky box is leaving thousands of qualified workers on the shelf. Since 2004, a growing number of states have taken actions to get that box removed. The latest effort is happening in Maryland.
Kimberly Haven says she was haunted knowing she'd have to check "yes" on her application for decades after completing her sentence. She's spent years advocating to get rid of that box, first successfully in Baltimore.
The first version of the bill was passed in Baltimore City, and then several other counties adopted their own version. Now a statewide bill has made it to the capitol in Annapolis for consideration.
Maryland Delegate Nick Mosby is pushing a statewide bill that would get rid of the box on the initial application. An employer can ask about a criminal history in the first interview but must wait to run a background check until a conditional offer has been made. He says it's just about getting employers to meet these applicants face-to-face.
Certain jobs, like ones in law enforcement or one that would require you to work with minors, are excluded from the bill. Those who support it say it reduces recidivism and hits an untapped skilled resource. Put simply, they say it's a smart economic decision.
But Cailey Locklair Tolle, who testified against the bill, says employers have a right to know up front whether the potential employee has a criminal history.
A 2012 ruling at the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission said employers should only consider convictions directly related to a job and whether the applicant is likely to commit the same crime again. The EEOC made discrimination based on conviction records a violation of federal employment law.
Maryland hopes to be the 12th state to pass the law mandating the box removal in both the public and private sectors. A federal bill has also been introduced in Congress. Kimberly says laws like these will make the difference to thousands of returning from incarceration every year.
I encourage you to also download the current IMR Newsletter to read testimonies of inmates we have been privileged to assist in their preparation for reentry and transition. All of this is made possible by your generous support and prayers. The social, spiritual, economic and practical impact made by preparing men and women for the realities of reentry is enormous. Visit the IMR website at inmateministryresources.com to learn how you may join our team and impact lives across the United States.
The term Recidivism is legally defined in most circles as a prison inmate who is released and within 3 years commits another crime, is arrested, prosecuted and sentenced and returns to prison to serve more time. Some states boast a low recidivism rate percentage of released inmates in the mid-teens while others publish a figure in the mid 40% range. The barely hidden secret across America, however, is that the true recidivism rate hovers around 70%! Thus, 70% of all released inmates return to prison on a new charge within 3 years. This figure does not include those returned to prison for probation or parole violations.
Try to imagine any church, business or organization with a 70% failure rate! The corrections industry thrives, however, because it is not dependent on sales or success, but on an endless supply of taxpayer funding. In many quarters, the corrections industry is big business. That is why the U.S. has only 4% of the world's population, yet 25% of the world's prisoners. In perspective, that is more than Russia, China, Iran or North Korea combined.
There are many effective prison ministries at work today, some with international outreach. Together these cover a wide range of ministry targets. Some are purely evangelistic, others are focused on the discipleship of existing Christian inmates, while still others address social, vocational and educational needs. Some are closely identified with traditional Christian values and beliefs, while others cover the spectrum of New Age and humanistic values in the guise of Christian "doctrine."
Inmate Ministry Resources, Inc., founded in 2015 and designated a legitimate non-for- profit ministry [501(c)3] exists for the purpose of addressing rampant recidivism by changing lives from the inside out. Only the saving power of Jesus Christ can do that. To that end, all material, programs and efforts are geared toward not only making disciples (faithful followers) of Jesus Christ, but toward making disciple makers! That is the mandate of the Apostle Paul to young Timothy as recorded in II Timothy 2:2:
"The things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who may be others to teach others also."
The Strategic Plan for IMR delineates four components that we believe God has called and empowered us to accomplish. They are:
IMR provides all materials to inmates and prison staff/volunteers at no charge. This is made possible only by the generosity of faithful partners. Even more important is our Prayerpal Ministry. People across the U.S. are provided with the necessary tools, guidelines and information to write a short note of encouragement and to pray for an inmate by name.
Visit the IMR website at www.inmateministryresources.com to learn more and prayerfully consider becoming a PrayerPal, Monthly Partner or both. Read the testimonies of inmates. Check out the quality, Bible-based materials available. Pass on this information to others. Sign up to be a regular recipient of this Blog. Above all, pray for this life-changing ministry.
May the Lord bless you richly with His grace and mercy.
Bob Riddle, VP of Administration