Andrew (Andy) Corley, President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International (PFI), joined Daniel White on The Kingdom Investor podcast to share about the transformative impact of Prison Fellowship International’s ministry around the world and how Jesus’ light reaches into the darkness of prison to change lives.
To hear Andy and Daniel’s discussion, click play to listen or read the transcript (below). You can also listen to the interview with episode notes and other episodes on The Kingdom Investor podcast.
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Daniel White (DW): Hello, and welcome to The Kingdom Investor Podcast. This is your host Daniel White. And today we interview Andy Corley. Andy is the president and CEO of Prison Fellowship International. Andy leads the work of affiliates in 118 countries to break the cycle of crime and restore lives through Jesus’s love. Andy has more than 30 years of corporate leadership experience and serves multiple international faith-based organizations.
If you have enjoyed the show, follow us on LinkedIn at The Kingdom Investor Podcast and help us reach more listeners by sharing with your friends. And now without further ado, let’s jump right into the show.
DW: Hello, Andy. Welcome to The Kingdom Investor Podcast. How are you doing today?
Andy Corley (AC): Thanks, Daniel. Great to be on the show.
DW: Yeah, would you share just a little bit about where you’re coming from and who you are?
AC: Of course, well, right now I’m coming from my office in Washington, DC. But, as you can already tell by my accent, I’m an Englishman. So, I have a long commute from my home in Darby in the United Kingdom with my lovely wife, and I come here as often as necessary and as often as I can. So, right now, I’m coming from Leesburg in Washington in the state of Virginia.
DW: Nice, nice. So, are you in DC a lot or for long periods of time, or just kind of back and forth a little bit?
AC: Yeah, I’m certainly in the United States a considerable amount as a result of my role. But I also travel internationally around the global family of Prison Fellowship International which is in 190 countries around the world. So yeah, a lot of time in the United States. And then quite a lot of time traveling internationally as well.
DW: Gotcha. So I was wondering if you could share maybe a highlight from this week or some project that you’re working on that you’re really excited about?
AC: Yeah, absolutely. Just got out of some meetings where we’ve been discussing a new program that we have launched, with children who have a parent who is in prison. It’s a new, what we call a modular program, which is designed to interrupt the playground to prison pathway. It’s very heavily weighted towards getting the child into education, and then providing them with scriptural age-appropriate Bible resources, hooking them up with a mentor, and that mentor, usually coming from a local church. And we’re rolling that out in big numbers around the world. And we’re very excited about it. And we’ve had some great updates on that particular program this week. So, that’s a new one, hot off the press, but one that we are really thrilled about its capacity to both scale and interrupt this, you know, what is a scandal, which is that children with an incarcerated parent are six times more likely to end up in prison themselves globally.
DW: Yeah, I remember learning a lot of those statistics early on. I did a little I got a chance to do a little bit of prison ministry when I was 17. And so it just blew me away some of the sad statistics around that. So that’s very exciting that you’re working on that, in that particular program. Would you mind praying for us before we get started, then we’ll dive into your story.
AC: I’d be delighted. Father, God, thank you that we have these technological advances that allow us to listen and to meet and to fellowship electronically. But God, even in this circumstance, we’re very conscious that you are present with us, and when you promise that wherever two or three are gathered together in your name, you’re there with us. We rely on that. We’re delighted in it. Father, we asked you to both give wisdom for myself and a connection with all those that are on the call that enables us to hear from you and to emerge from this next little while just encouraged in our faith and encouraged in the mission that you’ve called us to both collectively and individually. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
DW: Thank you, appreciate that. All right, would you share your story, some of the highlights, and just give us a little bit of background?
AC: Well, I started my working career, Daniel, as a geologist, an exploration geologist, studied geology at university. And pretty soon, in my early career, realized that no geologists that I knew sat on any board of directors and that I was going to have to find innovative ways of, of kind of becoming a little bit more of a businessman and less of a geology major, I ended up working for a number of very large multinational companies, and breaking out of the geological mold into becoming the sales and marketing director of one of our largest construction materials groups in the United Kingdom. I was blessed in that I managed to do that by the age of 40. But at the age of 40, that position was made redundant, and I was found surplus to requirements, because of the direction that the organization was taking. So spent two years without, without much work, I have to say, which was a very clarifying period in my life, and also quite a difficult period, in the sense of type A entrepreneurial type, sitting still and waiting for God is not something that we particularly fit well with us.
But anyway, that was my, that was very much a learning time for myself. And I would say also for my family, I then ended up becoming part of a small car shampoo business, that would fall on really hard times. And during that period of time, I really resolved in my mind, something that I struggled with over many years, which was this sacred-secular divide. that I believe is one of the kind of curses on the Christian world, if I’m absolutely honest, That somehow we feel that what happens on a Sunday is more important than what happens Monday to Saturday. And I’d really struggled with that even, you know, being a sales and marketing director of a, it was a three-quarter of a billion-pound organization. So it wasn’t small but we’re still struggling with this idea.
During that two years, it really got clarified, couldn’t wait to get back into the marketplace, took over this ailing cleaning chemicals firm, and we turned it into an infection control products manufacturer with global markets. It was a real success story. We were really blessed by God more than we deserved. And I got an, as a result of being in a much smaller organization, it also freed me up somewhat to use some of the skills and gifts that God had given me in the marketplace to allow them to be deployed elsewhere in other kingdom activities. And particularly in this particular story on the board of Prison Fellowship International.
So, I was a board member for six years before I became CEO and president. I got an unexpected opportunity to liquidate my shareholding because we’ve done a management buyout. And I was a third shareholder in the company that we had built. By then it had become a very profitable and successful small company but like I said, with global markets. But I’d found my own kind of calling I think, which was that as business people we can do some profoundly good work when we put the gifts that we have to work in all sorts of different scenarios. That led me to where I am now. Switching streams somewhat but as I shared with you yesterday, occasionally somebody will say to me, so now you’re doing the real stuff. You’re doing the good stuff, and my answer to that is absolutely not. I always felt that I was called certainly after that intervention in my 40th year that I was called. And all of us are, if we’re followers of Jesus, we’re all called, it’s just a matter of where, and to who. And so now I’m very privileged to kind of be doing different stuff, but still utilizing an awful lot of the lessons and the thinking and the mindset in a faith-based, for-impact organization, but still drawing heavily on my business experience and background.
DW: So can you tell us a little bit more about how that transitioned into what you’re doing now?
AC: Well, like I said, I got an unexpected opportunity to liquidate my shareholding, didn’t expect that at all. But it just coincided with the time when PFI had, I’d been on the board during a period where we had really gone through some quite profound shifts in the organization building on the foundations that had been laid over 40 years, but needing to look differently about how we were going to serve for the next 40 years. I ended up being very involved in that as a board member. Strategic, involved strategically and then a bunch of other ways as well, and also as a donor to the organization. Now, we are, as I said before building on that foundation, but really driving home, the strategic plan, we’ve got very clear on our mission, and vision and values, a lot of the principles that many of those that are present on the podcast will be familiar with, we employ in our organization, we bring the best out of what I would call commercial thinking and marry that with very much a faith-based organizational perspective. But we are also very passionate about ensuring that what we do we do in a real quality way. And I think the business has a lot to offer in terms of when we understand and of course, the outcomes are different. In business, you may be looking for profitability, you may be looking for a triple bottom line, you may be looking for, in some senses a mix between the two – profitability and social impact. Clearly, the outcomes are different in a faith-based organization. But what’s needed in order to run an effective ship can very often be quite similar.
DW: So, you mentioned calling, and everyone’s called to, you know, some are called a different place or to different people. Can you share maybe a little bit about your calling to Prison Fellowship International?
AC: Well, I think what happens to me, in my journey to becoming a board director, well, I don’t think this is what happened. So I was invited to a global convocation in Canada in 2011. And I saw something at that global gathering which I’d never seen before and never had cause to think about before which was around the area of prisoners and their families, those in prison and their families. I’d been, I’d thought a lot about the role of the marketplace where it intersects with evangelism. I thought a lot about running organizations on Kingdom principles. We got very involved in donations, particularly around the chronically poor, in places like Romania and Pakistan, and elsewhere. But I’d never thought about those in prison and their families. And so when I attended this event in Toronto, I saw some things that are, that really have stayed with me for the duration of my time. now, even now that I’m in a senior executive position.
The first was I loved the cross-cultural, multi-ethnic nature of the Prison Fellowship International family. To have representations, brothers and sisters who gathered around Jesus around a mission that was clear or around an underserved people group, if you like. But also, really, we’re not interested in the usual things that divided, divide us. So we rarely ask the question, what’s your denominational background? We don’t really care what color of skin you are at all. And, of course, we’re dealing with prisoners. So many of the, quite a few of our national ministry leaders will have been those that have been in prison and are now living transformed lives and doing remarkable things. So, you’ve got this incredible mix of people in a room.
Really the only important questions on one level that are asked are, do you love Jesus? And do you love the prisoner and their families and victims? And that was something that I had not experienced before, a kind of missional alignment that transcended the usual barriers that get in our way. I really liked that. And it doesn’t, does not mean that we’re not really clear that inner transformation is key to what needs to occur in a person who’s in prison, his life, or the life-giving opportunities that God, with the second chances brings to us are not really relevant for families. It doesn’t mean we’re soft on that. It just means that we’re able to position that in a very effective way. And I would say globally, Prison Fellowship International is really well known for the practical nature of the interventions that it provides. We mobilize about 50,000 volunteers around the world. We make live the proverb: Show me a man who is skilled in his work. He’ll stand before kings, not before men of obscurity because the things that we do, are the interventions that are helpful to prison ministries around the world.
So we really do have a good reputation for what we’re doing. We have a good reputation for our reliability. We’ve earned the right and our national ministries have earned the right over 40 years to speak with some clarity and forcefulness in a way that is really helpful. And as a result of that, that was my exposure to PFI and frankly, you know, I kind of fell in love with it as a mission that was on the razor-sharp edge. I believe of what God is doing in our world, not some kind of fringe activity, that people who are slightly weird get involved in. This was front and foremost, look for Matthew 25, Psalm 68, you know, he places the lonely in families, he leads the prisoner to prosperity, I just was really massively motivated by that, and that was, you know, became something which has changed me in the process, I would say. I don’t think that that’s an exaggeration, I have probably changed more, I hope for the good as a result of my understanding of God’s love for those that are incarcerated, their families, victims. It’s changed my heart in a way that is revealed God’s character. And I have been the beneficiary of that. So, long answer to your question, but hopefully that gives you a bit of a kind of flavor for the passion that I have for what we are doing together as a global organization.
DW: Yeah, I think that was really helpful and insightful to hear, hear your heart and the calling that God placed on your life. So, would you maybe share on a high level, globally, you said 118 countries, can you give us kind of a big picture first, and then drill down and maybe give us a specific story or two of tactically what you guys do?
AC: Sure. So as I said before, we are in 118 countries, we are, without hubris, the largest faith-based, for-impact family that is in prison ministry around the world which brings along with it, great opportunity and some real responsibility that we feel that we want to steward. There are many other wonderful ministries, working in prisons, we love them all. And we are, this is a space that is big enough for all of us. God bless anybody who is working in this space. However, our particular contribution, I think, is in terms of breadth and depth that we are going for at the moment. What PFI does, the bit that I’m CEO and president of because all of our national ministries are independent and indigenous. That gives us a real strength we are as global as necessary and as local as possible. But what that means is that PFI that the small, relatively small team, that I am privileged to lead of about 50 people, half of them in the United States, half in regional offices around the world, we catalyze their global ministry. And we do that in a variety of ways, we create an environment for them to be able to flourish because many of them are operating in really significantly difficult circumstances.
You know, in Africa, or Latin America, the Asia Pacific region, the Middle East, it’s just not like it is. And it’s difficult in Europe in some countries as well. But, you know, we’re used to the UK prison system, the United States prison system, and the kind of prisons, the kind of ministry that is demanded. The problems that they face can be extremely, in context, extremely difficult, and different. However, what we do find is that there is a suite of interventions that most of our national ministries say that’s really important for us. And they are what we call our program interventions. So the in-prison program interventions would be a Start A New Life with Jesus course, which we call the Prisoner’s Journey. We have discipleship programs. We have audio Bible programs, our audio Bible program is called The Listener’s Way. We have programs outside prison, working with families and livelihood. We have a restorative justice practice, called The Sycamore Tree Project.
And then what we’re also beginning to do on behalf of the family, we invest in our national ministries, almost like a kingdom investor. So we bring the programs, the integrity of the programs, startup funding to them. And in exchange, what we asked for is accountability on implementation, that they join in the effort to raise local funds. We put an arm around their shoulder in terms of capacity building, leadership development, board governance development, all the kinds of things that we know are going to be necessary for them to be bigger and better if you like in the future. That’s what I mean by we create an environment for them to flourish in. But we do it through very good practical interventions. We pack the capacity building around the practical interventions, and that as a strategy is working for us in a in quite a profound way, I would say. We have many, many stories of national ministries that have really grown as a result of us adopting this new strategic approach, which is around the interventions but helping them become more of who God has called them to be.
DW: Do you have any stories of individuals that have been impacted that you could share?
AC: You know, Daniel, I have too many to recount. We just have probably thousands of stories, but I will give you, I’ll give you one, and then I’ll give you another perspective. So, a couple of years ago, I was in Zambia, and I met a man called Bernard. When I met him in his home, his home is a mud hut. He has a garden that he is cultivating now on behalf of his family. Because while he was inside prison, he learned how to grow his own food. And his family of five children live with him in this mud hut. We had supported that family while Bernard was inside prison. So through our child’s journey program, which is a child sponsorship program, we had kept the family together. So that after Bernard had finished his five-year prison sentence, he came out to a family that was still intact, and a family that still wanted him with a skill that enabled him to provide for his family.
But what had happened to Bernard while he was in prison was that he had graduated all three programs that we ran in Ndola which was the city in which he lived. He graduated the Prisoner’s Journey. He’d done The Sycamore Tree Project. He’d gone on to further discipleship. And as I said, before, he had also, his family had also been the recipient of our children’s programs. He could not wait to show me his graduation certificates. But what was wonderful was that now he was volunteering, going back into the prison that he had left as a volunteer to deliver those programs. His life had been transformed by Jesus while he had been on the inside. When I met him, he was, I think he’d been out a couple of years. His family was in great shape, his eldest boy, he was so proud of his eldest boy, because his eldest boy was playing youth-level, national football for Zambia, he was a goalkeeper. He proudly showed, I mean, they were dirt poor, but they were together, his life was different. He was staying out of prison, he got a purpose in his life. And he was now going back into prison to share the good news of what he had discovered while on the inside.
Got so many of those, then, you know, I, that’s just one that I personally experienced. The second would just be to say, we have at least five national ministry leaders now who have spent time in prison, where God has grabbed ahold of them, turn their lives around, and now they’re running organizations that are serving their whole country. Indeed, as many of your listeners will know, that was the start of how Prison Fellowship came into being through Chuck Colson spending time in prison as a result of his, what happened with Watergate. Our whole story, in so many respects, is one of God breathing new life into individuals whilst they’re in prison, bringing reconciliation, healing, and restoration in a way that profoundly impacts them, but then brings healing restoration to their families and communities as well. We have so many stories of that I couldn’t tell you. But that’s just a couple of examples to enable us all to see that this really is a missional passion, I think, God, he leads the prisoner to prosperity is real in our experience.
DW: Yeah, I think that’s really powerful to hear those stories, because it really, it makes it real. You know, it’s really neat to hear the globalization of it, or the global reach of it, but also to hear the one on one relationship and how that’s been transformed. So that yeah, I think that was very helpful.
So I wanted to ask you, looking forward, what is the vision for Prison Fellowship International? Where are you guys going? What’s the next step?
AC: So, our mission, what we do every day, what we wake up in the morning and apply all the energy that we can do around transformation, to transform the lives of prisoners, their families, and victims through a global network of ministry partners. So we’re looking for outcomes in individuals’ lives. That’s the thing that really motivates us here at the end of all of our statistics, all of our programs are people, human beings created in the image of God, who are, you know, a ways away from him relationally. But as we all are at work at any point in our lives, we can all find ourselves relationally separated from God the Father. But that is the outcome that we seek that they find a renewed relationship with the Heavenly Father in a way that affects their life for the rest of their lives.
That’s what we do every day, but our vision is much bigger. Our vision is to break the cycle of crime and restore lives worldwide through Jesus’s love. Now breaking the cycle of crime is really complex, and it’s met very multi-layered. We are not going to be able to achieve that on our own. We do believe that we’ve got some very significant jigsaw pieces to deploy in that whole area. We’re upping our game a lot on the gathering of empirical data around our programs inside prison and outside prison working. We definitely know that early stage, empirical data, the first time that this has been done with Baylor University in Texas around the impact of faith-based programming in Colombia and South Africa, has revealed that culture change in the prisons is something that is it’s it’s occurring as a result of what is happening in individual lives.
So, let me just take you on that continuum. When men and women engage in faith-based programming, they experience a crystallization of discontent. I don’t like my life, I want it to change. We know that is a critical factor in any decision to engage in a new narrative and a repositioning of your former behavior, not being what you want to be engaging in the future is always really important for anybody who is currently in prison. That leads to identity transformation which is where the good news has some, I mean, imagine, all you’ve ever been taught is that you have no future, that your last act defines the rest of your life, that you are a monster, some kind of monster that doesn’t deserve a second chance. Into that comes the light of the good news of Jesus. It’s like a light bulb going on. Because God says, I love you, I forgive you. I give you a hope and a future. And I’m going to give you the power to change.
That’s really dynamic in a prison environment. And what we were getting tons of anecdotal evidence about was that when all of that came together, through faith-based programming, it was altering, it was changing the environment of the prison, and that there were increases in some very important pro-social behaviors. And this was now becoming a really important factor in prisons for prison authorities, because hey, they wanted to work in prisons that were less violent. They wanted to work in prisons, where men had hope and felt that there was a future because they know that this is an important piece of what it’s going to take for a prisoner to emerge from prison in a different state than what they went in and stay out. So it’s anecdotal evidence around the culture-changing, prison changing, becoming different was really important for us to study. So, that is part of where we’re headed, in answer to your question.
Our vision is to break the cycle of crime. There’s a lot more work to do, we’re not going to achieve that, it’s not an overnight kind of thing that we can point to. I think there are a number of other interventions that we’re either going to have to partner with others around, or we’re going to have to adopt them into our kind of daily strategy. But we are definitely seeing early-stage results that our vision, we believe our vision is achievable. And that breaking the cycle of crime, there is no reason why a child needs to end up in prison. That’s just a scandal. It should not be happening. There is no reason why a man or a woman if we have the right interventions for them in prisons, because there’s the problem. It’s true to say and
I’m not sugarcoating the hideous effects of crime here, by the way. There may be people on the call whose families have been affected by crime. I’m not sugarcoating at all, at all. There needs to be accountability, there needs to be responsibility taken.
But the plain fact of the matter is that 90% if not more, of prisoners globally, come back into our communities. It’s in the community’s interest to ensure that what happens while they’re in prison is beneficial to ensure that they don’t go back in. And I think it also is something that is really important for us as a society to have a grace-filled attitude that says, this is important. It is important that we don’t lock people up and throw away the key. It is important that our society is based on principles of forgiveness and a second chance. It says something about us as a civilization or as civilization, that is really important when we have a no man or woman left behind kind of policy. Everybody created in the image of God, everybody being released to be fully human. And we got some big messaging around that and the prisoner kind of those in prison, they exempt and their families they exemplify that and articulated in the right kind of way. I think we are convinced that breaking the cycle of crime is not something that we should be giving up on quite the opposite, we should be working to realize it.
DW: What do you wish that people knew about prison ministry?
AC: That if I was able to take you into prison with me tomorrow, you would meet men and women who are just like us. There but for the grace of God, go I. I think the first time I ever went into a prison, I think that was what grabbed me the most, was that I felt like I was interacting with men who I knew as a rugby player, if that makes sense, just the character type. And again, not sugarcoating the fact that crime had been committed, others harmed, often very deeply, hideous things can occur. But often, they are in prison, because of circumstances that have not been of their own making. They make poor choices, really spectacularly bad choices. But sometimes, the environment that they were brought up in, has landed them there. And when it all gets stripped away inside the prison, and you’re able to encounter the humanity of the other. I recognize them as people that I knew and liked.
And so I think that’s the one thing is to humanize the people who are incarcerated. And I had a great phrase this morning which is that, there are no monsters in prison, there are only people who’ve done monstrous things. That’s a that’s pretty much been my kind of experience. And it’s why whenever I go into prison, if there is a football or soccer yard, in the prison, I don a soccer shirt, and try to play soccer with the guys to kind of humanize in some. I mean, it’s a small thing, I get it. And I’m probably getting too old for it now. But, it just humanizes the other person in a way that I think is really good for us as a society to want to engage and not to place people away, who has just, you know, for different kinds of reasons ended up in prison.
Worth remembering that as well, Daniel, God forbid, but, you know, I drove out of our car park last night, here in the office, narrowly missed hitting somebody on a motorbike, who had no lights on. If I had, and it was really close, one of those scary moments, which I’m sure everybody identifies with the way you kind of stop the car and you breathe, go, thank God that could have been so different. But you know, if I hit that person, and I had been deemed to be responsible, I could be in prison as a result of that act.
And our prisons are full of people who have made spectacularly bad decisions, but they’re also full of people who are sad. And because our prisons have also become the place where everything that has gone on many of the deepest problems of our society, end up daylighting a very big proportion of them are also what I recall, in the mad category. They have profound mental health issues and prisons have become a place where society has failed, and we have failed the men and women inside prison. That’s where they end up. And we’re called to those people. We’re called to those people. They’re the people that Jesus did not give up on.
If you want the story of it. It’s right there in Luke 8 where Jesus is absolutely determined to get to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. There’s a massive storm preventing him to get there. He’s getting there, his disciples are panicking. But he said, we’re going over to the other side. But on the other side is a person who we call him the gathering demon-possessed man. But he’s a prisoner. He’s in chains. And I think that gives you, you know, a flavor of the passion that God has for those that are incarcerated, and those that are really hurting. For whatever reason, for whatever reason, we just haven’t an obligation to care for them. When I was in prison, you came to me, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he’s anointed me to preach good news to the oppressed, the captive. We’ve got a responsibility to do it. And if we can move prison ministry from the kind of, along with many others, by the way, this is not I’m not saying we’re the only show in town. But if we can move prison ministry, from the fringes of missional activity for the church, into the center of this is God’s mission, then that will be that’ll be a good thing for us to do.
DW: So, what brings you the greatest hope when thinking about that?
AC: The stories, without a doubt. The transformational stories that we are so privileged to sit on top of. We just have them by the bucket load. And then when you go into prison and see what is actually happening, like I said, I wish I could take everybody into prison. Because it’s just not what you generally expect. And that does something in us which is really healthy. That’s what I get most inspired by. I also get really inspired by our volunteers. We’ve got 50,000 of them globally, our national ministry leaders, the passion that they bring to this, the joy that they undertake their work with. I think the people are involved in prison are some of the happiest, fun, if I say so against myself, slightly fringe people but they’re just great to hang around with. All of that plus a profound encounter that always occurs when you go into prison, which I encapsulate by saying, we never take Jesus into the prisons, we just follow him in there. And all of those build up to just an immense feeling, of immense privilege and real hope that God is doing some amazing things in people’s lives.
DW: So, for listeners who feel like God has put it on their heart to get involved, how can they do that?
AC: Yeah, so given that our audience is in the United States, so it falls into the usual three categories, I think, Daniel. Pray, go, or give or maybe do a combination of all three. So, there is a remarkable prison ministry here, Prison Fellowship, which is focused on the United States. They do great work, your listeners will, no doubt have heard of Angel Tree and The Academy and interventions like that. So, go on to the Prison Fellowships websites. If you’ve got an international perspective, pfi.org or RestorativeJustice.org which is another one of our websites that is more on that kind of empirical, best practice with a restorative justice lens, RestorativeJustice.org would be the right place to go.
We have really big plans to reach a tipping point of the world’s prisoners. That takes resources. If people want to give we have multiple opportunities for them to do that. I’m really confident that whether you are passionate about evangelism or discipleship or scripture engagement, or passionate about practical interventions with the core and those that really need help, when you have the major breadwinner ripped out of your family, all that other kind of problems that come with that, there will be something that Prison Fellowship is doing because like I said before breaking the cycle of crime is very complex. There is likely to be something that will resonate with your leaders, with the leaders that are gathered online here. So, we’re always very grateful for additional financial support, or volunteer. You know, that’s, that’s another massive piece of what we do is we take people into prisons, they become part of the volunteer force that is so vital to the ministry that we undertake. There are just so many ways. I think it just takes the first step and finding out a little bit more and praying about it, and God will do the rest but I couldn’t recommend it more.
DW: And how can we specifically be praying for you?
AC: Well, I think the, what I’ve just said, is, as a growing family, we have growing needs. And that’s not just financial resources. So, many organizations have growing financial needs, particularly at this time, I mean, it’s a tough time for everybody. So, I don’t want to specifically focus on that but clearly, it will be an issue for us at the moment. I think that the thing that I would ask, probably more than anything, is just that some of the passion that we have for this, let’s call them, for want of the better term, an unreached people group, that this gets firmly anchored in the character of God. And that we see the prisoner, we discovered the, what I think is a kind of amazing truth that, that the prisoner is one of the disguises that Jesus takes in our world. And, you know, when I was in prison, you came to me, those words are quite staggering, actually, when you begin to read them slowly, “when I was in prison, you came to me”. So I think that’s the thing that I would ask you to pray about is that for all of us, that we have such a strong sense of who God is, who the passion of God, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ for the prisoner and their families. And answering the question of why I think takes all of us into a greater appreciation of just how amazing God is. And then the rest works its way out. And that, you know, we all at that point, we all grow in that process, we grow in the knowledge of God, but we end up leading lives that are pleasing to Him and called according to His purpose. And that kind of works its way out as a result of having our eyes open to who God is and what his passions are in this world that he has created and what our role is in that.
DW: Well, can I pray for you now?
AC: You certainly can. Thank you.
DW: Let’s pray. God, I thank you for Andy and for Prison Fellowship international. Lord, I pray that you would be guiding them, and that you would bless the ministry, that you’d provide for the ministry, that you would provide the volunteers and the finances and the access and the ability to connect with these people. Lord, I pray that you would help us to see clearly that you care for and love these prisoners and that we’re called to serve and love and bring life to them. Lord, I pray that You would bless the ministry and that you would bless Andy. In Christ’s name, I pray. Amen.
AC: Amen. Yeah, thank you for having me on Daniel, and just as a word of encouragement for everybody that has joined. Thank you for the work that you do in the marketplace which has probably had more impact than you could ever imagine. Salt and light is hugely needed. And I just want to, having come into a ministry kind of situation, affirm you all in what you are doing. It’s really, really important.
DW: Yeah, thank you for that. That is really encouraging. All right. Thank you guys for listening to this episode and we’ll catch you next time for another episode of The Kingdom Investor Podcast.
Last year, my wife Andrea and I were given a gift of a page from an original King James Version Bible containing my favorite verse — Colossians 1:10. It’s an appeal to “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” This verse has been a wonderful orientation in my life — deeply helpful as I have sought for meaning and purpose, as well as providing an internal gyroscope for the good and the noble.
I am particularly drawn to the final encouragement to grow in the knowledge of God because it implies flourishing and expansion in a linear direction. The natural world is full of examples of growth of this kind. Upwards, outwards and inwards. This is most spectacularly revealed to us at this time of year in the northern hemisphere, when flowers, trees and shrubs of all kinds begin to bud and flower.
I think it’s safe to say that linear growth (in three dimensions) is one of the most commonly observed phenomena in our world.
However, I’m acutely aware that my life also has cyclical elements to it, which are deeply helpful as I grow. One example of a cyclical element is the celebration of key events, birthdays, anniversaries and commemorative events like feasts. Reminders of vital events that have occurred in the past, but which are worth remembering for the future.
In the life of a believer in Jesus Christ, one of the most important of these is Easter, which returns each year full of the deepest meaning, significance and hope for our lives now and in the forever future.
At first sight, a line and a circle are clearly different. Yet, there is a three-dimensional form which combines a line and a circle, which is a spiral coil.
It seems to me that in the Christian life, this is a helpful visual illustration. God commends to us linear growth (in the knowledge of who He is and in being conformed to the image of His Son) and also a regular return to fundamental and forever truths (“Do this in remembrance of me”) that comprise our faith.
This spiral coil helps us to visualize how we can both grow and yet return to these events with ever- increasing wonder and appreciation.
May God richly bless you this Easter and renew your awe and wonder of the event that forever changed our world, 2,000 years ago. May this time allow you to again appreciate how the sacrifice of love that His death and resurrection demonstrated has changed our lives forever and embrace the flourishing that God has designed for His children who understand the power of this good news to heal, reconcile and transform.
We are grateful for this renewing message, which we first received ourselves and are privileged to share with those who are in prison, their families and victims around the world.
President and CEO
Prison Fellowship International
Andrew (Andy) Corley, President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International (PFI), joined Dawn Rae and Steve Hiller on Moody Radio’s Dawn and Steve in the Morning to talk through his journey to Prison Fellowship International, share about a range of PFI programs, including The Prisoner’s Journey and The Child’s Journey, and capture the hearts of listeners through compelling stories of lives being transformed around the world.
To hear Andy, Dawn and Steve’s discussion, click play to listen or read the transcript (below). You can also listen to the interview, different segments or other programs on Moody Radio.
[00:00:00] Steve Hiller: We want to introduce you to Andy Corley. He is the President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International. Andy, thanks for joining us this morning.
[00:00:09] Andy Corley: Yeah, it’s my pleasure. It’s an honor to be here. Thanks a lot.
[00:00:11] Steve: Well, you have been with Prison Fellowship International since 2012. Before we get into a little bit of your story, tell us a little bit about the organization. What is Prison Fellowship International?
[00:00:24] Andy: So, Prison Fellowship, as many of your listeners will know, was set up in 1976 by Chuck Colson. Chuck was the chief council in the Nixon government in the U.S and he spent a little bit of time inside prison and following that, and he had a real rejuvenation in his walk with the Lord.
He began Prison Fellowship in the United States, and what happened was that several people came to Chuck and said, “We love what you’re doing with the prisoners and their families in the United States, but what we’d like you to do is set up an international fellowship association. Chuck did that and Prison Fellowship International was born three years later in 1979. We’re now in 117 countries around the world. There’s a very wonderful national ministry still in the United States, Prison Fellowship. They do amazing work in the U.S. Prison Fellowship International is the association and kind of global collective impact alliance of all the other national ministries around the world.
[00:01:25] Dawn Rae: That’s amazing to think about people being met with the Gospel within prison walls all across the world. Andy, your story. Give us a little bit of your backstory and how the Lord brought you to Prison Fellowship International.
[00:01:41] Andy: Well, it really all began in 2010 when I attended, as a businessman, the Lausanne gathering in South Africa, which was something that was set up between John Stott and Billy Graham, and it was a global evangelization Congress.
I was invited as a businessman because at that time, I had spent 20 years in global, multinational businesses and also at that time was running a small start-up, entrepreneurial business. I was invited to speak at the Global Executive Leadership Forum, which is a very pompous title, but there were some amazing people there. In the audience was the CEO of Prison Fellowship International, and I was invited on the board.
To be honest, I fell in love with the organization immediately — with the mission, with the people that I met, with the kind of work that was being done around the world.
I served on the board for about seven years and then I got an unexpected opportunity to liquidate my shareholding in the business that I co-owned and PFI was looking for a new CEO. I stepped off the board so it could make an independent decision and the rest is history. I became the CEO four and a half years ago.
[00:02:54] Steve: What was it that caused you to fall in love with the ministry? You said you know, it kind of captured your attention and your heart. What was it about the ministry that drew you in?
[00:03:04] Andy: Well, I got invited to a global convocation in Toronto in 2011, and frankly,
I saw something that I’d really not experienced before which was a cross-confessional group of people – from the Roman Catholic tradition, the Orthodox tradition, evangelical tradition — who love Jesus first and foremost. That was very obvious that they loved God with all the heart, soul and strength, but also, they loved the prisoner and their families. It was that that was the uniting factor.
You know, prison work is tough. It’s challenging. There are barriers around prisons for very good reasons so getting into them can be hard work. It was just the quality of people and also a growing sense that what was happening around the world was that we weren’t taking Jesus into the prisons, we were following him in. That really grabbed me over the coming years, became a real passion for me. As you said, I served on the board first of all, and now I’m the CEO but it was really that, it was passion for the mission and just this amazing international family that we were building on that had been set up over 40 years.
[00:04:13] Dawn: Wow. I love the statement: “We were not taking Jesus into the prison; we were following him in.” Andy, is there a particular prison/ country that most surprised you that the Lord opened the doors?
[00:04:28] Andy: Yeah, I would probably say Colombia was the first time that I experienced [that] in Medellín’s Bella Vista Prison, which had a reputation during the Pablo Escobar years to have been the most violent prison in the world. To enter that prison and to see the transformation that had taken place, largely because of the good news of Jesus and the way that he was transforming lives, really spoke to me. Since then, I’ve traveled to many, many countries, been in many prisons. That sense of experiencing God never leaves.
You know, you’re right on the razor-sharp edge between light and darkness so there’s always a very strong sense of God’s presence there, which you encounter in different ways, in different cultures, in different countries.
[00:05:15] Dawn: When we come back, we want to talk about that, that sense of God being there. Andy Corley is with us. He’s the President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International. More of the God stories as they go into 117 countries until the whole world hears it. It just reminds me of what Moody Radio Partners do as well. Thanks for joining us this morning. More with Andy on the way. It’s Dawn and Steve Moody Radio.
We have the President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International with us, Andy Corley. Andy, as you talk about the heart that God has given you for Prison Fellowship International and just to see Him at, work following Him into prisons and when we see His hand and we want to just join Him in the work.
You’ve done that for several years now with Prison Fellowship International. Can you walk with us through what happens when this Bible- based program goes into a prison, interacting with those that are there and then a life change happens? Can you share one prisoner story?
[00:06:21] Andy: There are so many stories that it’s probably better for your audience to talk generally, but I could definitely put faces on names.
Imagine you’re at the darkest point in your life where you’ve lost all hope, where you are incarcerated for the decisions that you’ve taken, for the harm that you’ve committed, and you’re faced with yourself. Into that, for the first time ever, you are in a fertile ground, if you like, to hear a message that starts off with you answering three questions: who is Jesus, why did he come, what does that mean for me? This is what we call The Prisoner’s Journey®.
It’s a self-discovery course. It’s based on the gospel of Mark and the whole idea is that you encounter Jesus who was a prisoner. Since 2014 when this program was begun, we have that 580,000 men and women in 42 countries graduate that program. It has been absolutely huge in its impact.
What is also really wonderful about that program is that there’s a very high take up, higher than 70% around the world, of discipleship. Men and women who graduate The Prisoner’s Journey® are then asking for further biblical discipleship. Now, there was one other thing that was just amazing as this program began to be rolled out, was that we got lots of anecdotal evidence from the prisons that, as a result of men and women engaging in scripture, the culture in the prison was changing. We began to study that with Baylor University, Byron Johnson and his team who are very renowned experts in this field. This was the first international study that has ever taken place, but Byron and his team have done a huge amount of work in the United States on this, that scripture engagement produces the following impacts.
The first is a crystallization of discontent: “I don’t like my life. I want it to change.” That leads to, with scripture engagement, identity transformation, which is really key. That there is a God who loves me, a God who forgives me, God who says that my last act does not need to define the rest of my future, a God who promises to give me hope. Scripture engagement produced that crystallization of discontent leading to an identity transformation. The identity transformation then led to increases in pro-social behavior, reductions in levels of violence, increases in levels of hope, those kinds of things.
It was that, that the prison authorities themselves in the two countries that we studied, Columbia and South Africa, that really gave us the confidence [that] these programs were working. It’s not the only program that we run and it’s certainly not the only program that our national ministries run because the whole vision really is to break the cycle of crime and that’s very multifaceted.
Certainly, the good news of Jesus has a massive impact in men and women’s lives when they learn about who God is and what he says about them. So, for us, it’s just been a huge opportunity to serve in those kinds of environments.
[00:09:41] Steve: Andy, as you think about the fact that prisons, as you were talking about earlier, are not always easy to get into. They’ve got all sorts of fences and security and protocol and things to get in there. Are there certain places around the world where you find it much easier to get into prisons to be able to share the gospel? Are certain parts of the world more receptive to your ministry than others?
[00:10:06] Andy: Yeah, we’re definitely seeing totally open doors across the continent of Africa, in Latin America and in parts of Asia Pacific, without a doubt. We mobilize about 43,000 volunteers around the world through our national ministries so during the COVID pandemic, they weren’t able to get in. Now, the amazing thing was that the programs in many respects still continued unabated. When the pandemic ended, the prison governors and prison authorities were just desperate to have us back in which was a great validation of the amazing work that our national ministries do.
We are there really to serve those communities by connecting them with volunteers from local churches and thereby to establish relationships, which is a critical part of what it means for a prisoner when they finally have served their sentence to come back into community. Having relationships there, keeping their families together (which is something that we also do and are increasing our efforts in that area) is vital to their rehabilitation and the church has got a massive role to play in that.
[00:11:12] Steve: Talking with Andy Corley this morning. He is the President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International. Andy was on a recent trip to Nairobi, Kenya, where some of this training took place. We’re going to find out what the results of that were coming up in just few moments.
We’re talking with Andy Corley. He is the President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International. Andy, I know recently you were over in Nairobi, Kenya, where you were involved in some training that took place. Tell us a little bit about what happened there in Kenya.
[00:11:43] Andy: We were in Nairobi because it was the largest gathering of countries to be trained in The Prisoner’s Journey®, which is this eight-week course that I was telling you about. We had 11 national ministries there. I should say that all of our national ministries are independent and indigenous. We kind of hang together out of common mission and care and love for each other, but in Kenya, it’s a Kenyan board and it’s a Kenyan executive director, and we really believe in that model.
As PFI, the piece that I’m CEO of, we act like a global catalyst putting a big arm around the shoulders of our brothers and sisters who are serving in the prisons of the world and bringing programs and startup finance and things like that to them, as well as training in leadership and governance.
We had 11 national ministries who were at this event. Brand new countries that are going to be training volunteers, going into the prisons and rolling out this course. It was a big event for us. To that, we added another five national ministries who were there for refresher training, so they’ve been running this course for many years now, but they were there for refresher training.
Alongside that, we brought together six of our most fruitful national ministries and some of our most mature national ministries that act like a president’s council to myself and our COO Dave and kind of inform our thinking about how we can do more and be more effective and effectively glorify God more in the work that we do.
It was a very big event, probably one of the largest that we’ve held since the convocation in 2011, but very fruitful. We were so excited. People were just really thrilled to be in each other’s presence again, it was a very good time. We got on a prison visit, and I got to meet the honorable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court while I was there, who was really interested to talk about the work that PFI was doing and then how they might be able to collaborate with PF Kenya, wanting to learn a little bit of what was going on around the world.
Most criminal justice systems, most prison systems, they all have challenges and one of the great things that I think that we are able to do because we’re there to serve them as well, is to help with some of the programs and interventions that are really working around the world and that was what she wanted to talk to me about, which was a great honor.
[00:14:14] Dawn: Andy, as you meet and as you’ve met prisoners throughout this journey as you’ve been CEO and President of Prison Fellowship International, can you tell us one story about a prisoner who’s been transformed by the gospel?
[00:14:29] Andy: Earlier this year, I went to Colombia. I mentioned Bella Vista Prison already, and I met a gentleman there who told me his story. His name was Carlos Velasquez and in 1993, he was a prisoner in Bella Vista. He’d been involved in a drug cartel and had been put away for his crimes for 11 years. But in the first year that he was inside prison, he’d come to know Jesus. This had radically transformed his life and since that conversion, since encountering Jesus in the prison, now he’s out of prison, he’s back in his community.
As I said, I met him while he was there, but he’s begun to carve wood. He started while he was inside prison and now, he continues and I use his carvings. He’s got a kind of signature piece, which is a set of praying hands and he learned that [through] his wood carving, God was speaking to him about it being a representation of his life that God takes a rough, ugly piece of wood, which is a metaphor for all of us, which represented his life before knowing Jesus. But then he carves it into the hands in a position of worship and prayer. They really are very beautiful. I have several that whenever I travel internationally, I very often give them as gifts because I think it’s just a great representation of the heart of God towards prisoners in particular, but to all of us, how he redeems us, how he loves to do that. He leaves the prisoner to prosperity, and so it’s just a fabulous thing to be able to have with me.
Carlos became a friend when I was in Colombia earlier this year, and now he goes back into Bella Vista prison and he’s a trainer for The Prisoner’s Journey®. We have an absolute bagful of stories like that. We’re not short of amazing testimony of how good God has been to people who’ve been behind bars and indeed is to all of us.
[00:16:36] Dawn: With over 580,000 people going through the program and encountering Christ on a personal level, no doubt you have stories. Maybe we can find out about another story, I hear that there may be somebody in Zambia that has a testimony to give to us this morning. Just hearing what God has been at work doing through this ministry, and of course, the heart that he gave Chuck Colson to start this ministry back in 1976 and now internationally since 1979. Andy, just thinking about what you mentioned with Zambia, there is a prisoner there, a former prisoner, where do we find this person in the journey of faith?
[00:17:17] Andy: Yeah, so Bernard lives on the outskirts of Ndola. Imagine a very, very poor dwelling where he is now with his family. Bernard spent five years inside prison and while he was there, one of the programs that Prison Fellowship International kind of sets up with national ministries is called The Child’s Journey®.
It’s a very holistic response. Children of an incarcerated parent face a very, very difficult suite of problems in front of them. It’s just known that the issues that they face are significant and severe. In order to break the cycle of crime, which is our vision, and to restore lives worldwide through Jesus’s love, the board and the exec, we have decided that working with children is really important. The Child’s Journey® is a holistic response to the issues of crime in a child’s life and basically, there are four interventions in The Child’s Journey®: security, education, health and spiritual resiliency. It’s designed to also connect them with local volunteers in local churches as a community.
While Bernard is away in prison, Prison Fellowship Zambia is looking after his family and keeping his family together. While Bernard is in prison, we are ministering and serving him through the programs. I got to go and meet Bernard and his family now that he was out. He had graduated pretty much every program that we were offering in that country.
He’d done The Prisoner’s Journey® and had a certificate. He had done the Public Reading of Scripture which is a collaboration that we have with another organization in the United States. He’d also done the Sycamore Tree Project: Justice and Peace®: Justice and Peace and often in countries like Zambia graduation, with a certificate presented in front of a parole board can contribute to receiving parole.
They really value the programs that we are doing there and it can be very helpful to a prisoner. Bernard had all the certificates, but on there is a space for my signature. He presented me very proudly, showed me all of these. I don’t think he really had any clue who I was, which is absolutely fine, there’s no reason for you to do that, but there was the space for a signature, but it was unsigned. I was able to sign these three certificates for him and to meet his family.
That probably is the best illustration that I can give you of how impactful national ministries in the PFI family are being, in terms of: looking after families who are outside, keeping them together, ministering and serving the incarcerated parent while they’re inside, helping them to then come together outside, reducing the possibility that they will recidivate and go back into prison.
I met Bernard, his family were doing so well. He had four girls and one boy. He was very proud of his boy because he was playing for the Zambian national soccer team as a goalkeeper. There was just a great opportunity to see all of these things coming together and to feel that we were actually, by the grace of God, able to serve them, make a difference in their lives, show them practically and through proclamation, what it means to be followers of Jesus. They were now part of our family. It was just a real privilege. Like I said before, we just have a lot of those.
God is active and he does lead the prisoner to prosperity.
[00:21:01] Steve: Absolutely love hearing the stories of how God is active, how he is doing that and how he is using Prison Fellowship International to really impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world who find themselves incarcerated, but not only them, the families as well. Love The Child’s Journey® and all the different programs that you are involved in. Andy Corley with us. He is the President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International.
The only words I can muster since my recent return from a Vision Trip to Rwanda are, “My heart is overflowing!” We spent a week with the Prison Fellowship Rwanda team and I am so impressed with how strong they are, the progress of the programs they are running and how they impact the lives of so many prisoners and their families through Jesus’s love.
First, we headed into the Rwamagana Prison where we sat with 15 small groups as they were studying the seventh lesson of The Prisoner’s Journey (TPJ). Our seven PFI guests broke up into groups of two or three and were invited to sit amongst the prisoner groups. Of these 15 groups, only one was led by an external volunteer with prison access while 14 of them were led by internal volunteers (prisoners or corrections staff members who are so moved by the course that they complete an eight-hour training to become a leader). This practice is what sustained TPJ and in-prison ministry around the world during the pandemic. While prisons were closed to external visitors, our programs did not have to stop because God had prepared certified, trained staff on the inside!
Prison Fellowship Rwanda volunteer Francoise, currently the only external TPJ course leader
Each small group leader called on a couple of participants to share what the course has meant to them. Time after time, I heard, “I was living in the darkness, but now because of Jesus and His forgiveness, I am living in the light.” As more prisoners shared, I kept hearing answers of deliverance from darkness and having their burdens lifted as they learned of His forgiveness. One young man shared that he was in prison for stealing a motorbike and he was angry when he was arrested. All he could do was count how many motorbikes he would steal once he was released from prison. He told us that now that he’s nearly completed the program, this desire no longer lives in his heart. He has realized that he must take ownership and responsibility for his crime and because of this, he wants to be a better person once he released from prison.
A rare opportunity to sit among prisoners during TPJ course discussions at Rwamagana Prison
Over the next two days, we spent time around the Kigali and Ngara communities to see ministry activities happening within The Child’s Journey (TCJ), PFI’s signature child sponsorship program. Witnessing local song and dance, health checks and clothing distribution, we played games like Duck-Duck-Goose and Red Rover with the children and staff. Parents, caregivers and children also shared beautiful stories and testimonies of how difficult their life was before the program, and how it has helped them. Through TCJ, children of prisoners are matched with a Christian caseworker to guide them through life, often over the span of many years.
Children sponsored through TCJ receive program services like health checks to ensure wellbeing
One day, I sat in on a group discussion for children aged 12 and over on an important topic: planning for the future. They asked questions like, “Who are your five best friends today? Do they make you feel better about yourself or worse? When making decisions, do you think about who it will impact and could the decision stop you from reaching your goals?” Having the children answer these types of questions allowed them to think about where they are in life, where they want to be and what kind of influence their friends are. Not only does sponsorship provide material items like food and shelter for children, but it also ensures access to opportunities for increasing self-esteem, building hope and improving interpersonal relationships.
Rwandan children and caregivers gathered with smiles and laughter to welcome our group
We loved seeing all the happy faces as we distributed clothes (left) and played games, like jump rope (right)!
Many of us on the trip quickly realized how deeply woven the effects of the 1994 Rwandan genocide are still in the fabric of the nation today. Tanya*, one of the TCJ caseworkers, lost her entire family, including her siblings and parents, to the genocide. A neighbor found her as an infant in a field and raised her as her own. Now, she has found healing and works at Prison Fellowship Rwanda to support children of prisoners with healing of their own. Only God the Father can bring about that kind of healing.
We also got to sit down at dinner with Bishop Deogratias Gashagaza, the Executive Director of Prison Fellowship Rwanda. He is very well known throughout the region for the work he has done to establish reconciliation practices between the Hutus and Tutsis. This includes a longstanding Prison Fellowship Rwanda initiative, Reconciliation Villages*. In these communities, sprawled across the country with 864 homes, genocide survivors and perpetrators live alongside each other. They are places where convicted killers take responsibility for their crimes through reconciliation efforts and survivors and refugees offer forgiveness.
PFI Regional Manager Franck Baby (left), PFI Donor Relations Director Kristi Padley (middle), Prison Fellowship Rwanda Executive Director Bishop Deogratias Gashagaza (right)
Many of the people living in these villages have lived here for over a decade, including Lorince. During the genocide, two of her neighbors helped kill her family. She was pregnant at the time and had an infant, so she ran and hid for a long time. The men got out of prison years later and Prison Fellowship Rwanda invited Lorince’s and the neighbors’ families to live in the village together. When she moved in, she had not yet forgiven those who killed her family. She told us that during the genocide, she promised God that she would serve him if he saved her and her child. She heard God speaking to her, asking to forgive, and so she worked very hard to do so. Her face was beautiful with peace as she told us her story while sitting next to the men who caused her so much harm. It was truly awe-inspiring as only God can soften hearts like that.
*The Rwandan Reconciliation Villages are unique to Prison Fellowship Rwanda, and I’ve shared this with you because this is incredible restorative justice work. PFI also has efforts to increase the restorative nature of in-prison programming around the world through Sycamore Tree Project: Justice and Peace®: Justice and Peace (STP). STP is an in-prison course focusing on responsibility, confession, forgiveness and making amends. You can read more about this much-needed work on restorativejustice.org.
Refugee Lorince, who lives in a Reconciliation Village, shares her story
God was truly with us on this Vision Trip to Rwanda as we all came away with hearts overflowing. Prison Fellowship Rwanda is powerfully transforming lives of prisoners, their families and victims of crime across the nation through their own and Jesus’s love. It was an incredible thing for us to witness that impact.
*Name changed for privacy
Given the current events in Ukraine, many people have reached out to us with concern for our brothers and sisters working with Prison Fellowship Ukraine and the surrounding ministries, and how to help.
First and foremost, we ask you to pray.
Second, you can give a gift to support our work across Europe and Central Asia. This is not emergency relief for the Ukraine – it is for what comes next.
Early estimates from the philanthropy research organization Candid has catalogued $440 million in grants and $333 million more in pledges for the victims. Those totals do not include individual donations, or donations from nonprofits and corporations that haven’t publicly reported their gifts – meaning the actual amount in aid is much higher. Our partners with the Hopebearer Foundation and many of the Prison Fellowship family have stood up around the world to provide much-needed assistance during this time of crisis.
What is not in place are support efforts for what’s to come. These long-term efforts are where Prison Fellowship International will be, as the ongoing needs will be significant. With your help, we will be there to continue sharing the Gospel with prisoners and their families.
In the meantime, please read on to hear of the herculean effort being made by the Prison Fellowship Ukraine, Romania and the Czech Republic teams to serve those most in need during this time.
Prison Fellowship Ukraine
The team in Ukraine is assisting with evacuation efforts and supplies for women and children. To date, they have helped evacuate more than 300 families and provided food packages which include flour, sugar, salt, porridge, canned food, and cookies.
An evacuation van being used by PF Ukraine to transport women and children to safety
Prisons and prisoners are are especially vulnerable at this time. Five prisons have been hit by shelling or gunfire throughout the course of the conflict. Fortunately, the prisoners and staff had been evacuated to bomb shelters, so no casualties have been reported from these incidents. Many prisons in Ukraine are a long way from urban centers leaving them unable to source food and other necessary goods while the supply chain is disrupted. Prison Fellowship Ukraine is purchasing goods including flour, tomato paste, tea, stew, and margarine, and delivering them to prisons to help sustain the prisons during this difficult time.
Groceries that were purchased by PF Ukraine for delivery
They have also purchased goods such as toilet paper, milk, rice, flour, and meat to help stock a center that is hosting Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs). The center is run by Sergei, a friend of Prison Fellowship Ukraine. He opened the center initially to host children facing difficult family situations, but recently opened the doors to others that are displaced and in need at this time.
Check out this video that PF Ukraine shared of a group of Ukrainian children of prisoners expressing their gratitude for the assistance that they have received.
Prison Fellowship Romania
Prison Fellowship Romania has stepped in to provide much needed support for refugees crossing their border. PF Romania staff and volunteers have been collecting and creating care packages that are being distributed to refugees at Sighet Border as they enter. Some volunteers from PF Romania have even opened their own homes to host refugee families.
Prison Fellowship Romania delivering goods to the warehouse at Sighet Border
Prison Fellowship Romania has welcomed 46 children with disabilities, along with their caregivers, into their social center in Cluj. They are currently providing housing and meals for these families.
Families arriving at the PF Romania’s social center in Cluj
The PF Romania team is also bravely delivering aid within Ukrainian borders. They are driving trucks full of food and other disaster relief items to the front lines where they are needed most, including a refugee shelter in Ternopil.
PF Romania volunteers delivering goods to a shelter within Ukraine
Prison Fellowship Czech Republic
Prison Fellowship Czech Republic is hard at work building support and gathering relief items for those in Ukraine. They have held collection drives in Prague and Brno to gather backpacks, sleeping bags, lamps, batteries, hygiene items, winter clothing and food to be delivered directly in Ukraine to prisoners, their families, and prisoners who have been recently been released to defend Ukraine. In addition, they have collected more than $6,000 in funds to be disbursed to refugees.
The Prison Fellowship global family has come together in a big way to support our Ukrainian brothers and sisters and we will continue to do so while praying for peace and safety within the region. Pastor Viacheslav, Executive Director of Prison Fellowship Ukraine, has remained in the country to direct the aid being disbursed by the National Ministry and pray with those who are seeking comfort.
See below for additional photos of the efforts.
From PFI President & CEO, Andrew Corley
Charles Dickens created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is one of the Victorian era’s great novelists. His stories still speak to us today. What is less well known is that Dickens was a believer and a follower of Christ and much of his writing is the result of personal experience. What is even more interesting is that he was the child of a prisoner.
Fired by righteous indignation stemming from his situation and the conditions of the poor in his time these became major themes of his work.
In A Christmas Carol, which sums up some of the major themes, we see Ebenezer Scrooge’s heart change. He starts with the immortal line “Bah Humbug!”… cold and hard, unable to think of others…..but Scrooge’s eyes are opened, and eventually he treats others with kindness, generosity, and compassion, embodying the spirit of Christmas
His life was transformed by perspective, understanding, and generosity.
I also want to encourage you with these words from the mouth of the creator of the Universe, whose birth as the fully God and fully human one we celebrate at this time:
“The Son of Man will come again with divine greatness, and all his angels will come with him. He will sit as king on his great and glorious throne. All the people of the world will be gathered before him. Then he will separate everyone into two groups. It will be like a shepherd separating his sheep from his goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the king will say to the godly people on his right, ‘Come, my Father has great blessings for you. The kingdom he promised is now yours. It has been prepared for you since the world was made. It is yours because when I was hungry, you gave me food to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I had no place to stay, you welcomed me into your home. When I was without clothes, you gave me something to wear. When I was sick, you cared for me. When I was in prison, you came to visit me.’ “Then the godly people will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food? When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you with no place to stay and welcome you into our home? When did we see you without clothes and give you something to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and care for you?’ “Then the king will answer, ‘The truth is, anything you did for any of my people here, you also did for me.’”
—Matthew 25:31-40 ERV
At Prison Fellowship International, this is our goal:
Our wonderful donors, of which you are one, have risen again and again to the opportunity to partner with us. The impact is undeniable.
Thank you. You have no idea how appreciated you are.
And by the grace of God and with your support we are resolutely committed to accelerating into the future in 2021. This is the theme of our faith-filled strategic plan for next year.
It will continue because of the passion that God has placed in each of us, through the generosity of good people like yourselves and because it must according to the command of Jesus.
We still have many financial needs for this year and next. Would you help us with a special single gift at this critical time?
We are deeply grateful for your continued support, perspective, understanding, and generosity. And we cannot do this without you.
I sign off all my communication with the following signatory words: “We go because we must, we go well because we can”.
I might add “we also go because our wonderful supporters enable us to.”
Dear PFI Family,
There are some lovely video compilations on the internet of families being reunited with their loved ones after being separated. It doesn’t matter if the person returning is male or female, what their skin colour, ethnicity, or tribe are, whether they are in the military or a grandparent, the joy of receiving a loved one home is a deeply resonant and emotional thing to experience or to observe.
So universal are the emotions this evokes that at the south end of the upper level of the iconic St. Pancras railway station in London stands a huge statue that beautifully captures the moment. The Meeting Place is a nine-metre-high (30 ft), 20-tonne bronze sculpture of glorious emotive art that depicts a couple embracing after separation.
As I watched one of these video compilations recently, I was reminded of a time when I was parted from my daughter for two weeks when she was four years old. Each night I rang home, and each night Abby cried – heart-breaking for a dad who was 50% of her naming committee (Abigail Amy means “father’s joy; beloved”). It was late when I eventually arrived home, and though the children were sleeping, I went in to kiss the daughter I had missed so much. But as I kissed Abby’s forehead she woke up. After a flustered couple of seconds she realised this was not a dream; dad was actually home. She gasped, yelled my name and wildly flung her arms around my neck without letting go.
I will never forget that moment.
We know every child with an incarcerated parent faces the pain of this loss and separation, and it can be deeply damaging. So much so that we have made the visiting of parents a vital component of the Children of Prisoners Program. The results have been outstanding. And many of the other national ministries who do not run the program hold “relationship events” inside or outside prison that have the same healing and restorative impact.
Jesus told many stories about moments just like this in parables like the prodigal son or the loving Father (take your pick), the lost coin, or the 100th sheep. The outcome is the reuniting of formerly estranged people, and the dominant inspiration and loving genius behind the reuniting is God himself. The wayward son is me…and you…and the prisoner.
This year has been a challenge for all of us. And even though we prepared for many situations, far more have surprised and stressed us. But as I look back at 2020, what I am most thankful for is God’s love and faithfulness and the courage we gained despite the confusion. God has come closer to us, often through your faithful support; He has enabled our ministries to better serve the needs of prisoners and their families in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise considered had it not been for the pandemic.
Thank you for partnering with us this year. We have seen God’s love, care, and provision, and I trust you have too. I am deeply grateful for your generosity. It is your support that enables us to provide the hope and good news of God’s love to those who are often ostracized and overlooked.
And all this is worth giving thanks for.
President & CEO
Prison Fellowship International
WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 12, 2020—Prison Fellowship International (PFI) and Biblica, the International Bible Society, recently announced a strategic partnership to engage children of prisoners worldwide. The goal of the five-year partnership is to introduce the transformative power of God’s Word to 40,000 children who have an incarcerated parent. Under the agreement, Biblica will provide age-appropriate Scripture resources for children and caregivers which will then be distributed through PFI’s Children of Prisoners Program.
“The partnership with our friends at Biblica will help provide a vital intervention these children desperately need,” said PFI President and CEO Andrew Corley. “Life-changing resources are an integral part of PFI’s strategy to transform young lives and break the cycle of crime. Both PFI and Biblica are committed to putting the Bible in the hands of children and their families. By working together on this common goal we can do much more than either organization could on its own.”
“We couldn’t be more excited about this vital partnership with PFI,” said Geof Morin, president and CEO of Biblica. “This shared effort to bring Gospel transformation to some of the world’s most vulnerable and forgotten kids fits squarely into our highest mission hopes.”
More than 14 million children around the world have lost one or both parents to imprisonment. They are among the most vulnerable groups in the world, suffer from the worst effects of marginalization and poverty, and are at high risk of exploitation, abuse, and neglect. The stigma of parental incarceration is particularly devastating for children as they experience the resulting trauma, shame, and significant financial challenges. Without intervention, these children are unable to overcome these obstacles, increasing the risk of repeating cycles of crime, poverty, and shame.
The partnership is part of a new PFI program in which children of prisoners are connected with a local church-based volunteer who will mentor each child throughout the year. These mentors will serve as tutors, using Scripture as the basis for achieving both spiritual and educational outcomes. Education is a critical factor in improving the safety, health outcomes, and overall resilience of vulnerable children. Additionally, belonging to a church community has been proven to reduce tendencies toward depression, substance abuse, and suicide by improving emotional and mental health, social support, and greater satisfaction in life.
About Prison Fellowship International
Founded in 1979 by Charles Colson, Prison Fellowship International (PFI) is dedicated to transforming the lives of prisoners, their families, and victims through their global network of 116 ministry partners. The vision of PFI is to break the cycle of crime and restore lives, worldwide, through Jesus’s love. Learn more at www.pfi.org.
About Biblica, The International Bible Society
Biblica is a global Bible ministry that inspired by radical generosity. For more than 200 years, Biblica has helped people beyond the reach of God’s Word discover the love of Jesus Christ producing relevant and reliable Scripture translations and resources that serve people on the margins of the Gospel – the unreached, unengaged, unseen, and unwanted. Visit www.biblica.com for more information.
President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International (PFI), Andrew D. Corley, and Lácides Hernández, president of Confraternidad Carcelaria de Colombia (Prison Fellowship Colombia), recently had the honour of being guest speakers at the Second Annual Latin American Congress of Restorative Justice. The event, hosted by countries Colombia and Argentina, took place virtually June 30 – July 3, 2020.
The theme for this year’s congress was “Building a culture of dialogue, peace, and human rights” with the objective to create a space for reflection and foresight in the restorative justice field and the culture of dialogue, peace, and human rights that contribute to building societies which have more solidarity, tolerance, participation, and inclusivity.
“It was a great privilege to be asked to speak,” said Corley. “In this endeavour, PFI worked alongside a global movement of partners who are committed to a more just society based on the principles of restorative justice. While PFI has been involved in restorative justice initiatives for over two decades, all efforts that support a culture of dialogue, peace, and human rights should be welcomed and encouraged. I am therefore very honoured to have played a small part in helping the congress achieve these goals.”
More than 1,200 participants from Latin America, Europe, and North America attended the congress, which included five panels and three experience sharing sessions. Corley spoke during the first panel on “Interpreting the nature of what is restorative: philosophical and epistemological contributions about the restorative field and the culture of peace.”
Hernández, who is also a PFI board member, served on the Executive Committee for the congress. He was part of the second experience sharing session, discussing the restorative approach from the models of indigenous, community, therapeutic, transitional, and transformative justice. “Within Latin America, there is a definite interest in transforming the justice system,” said Hernández. “Therefore, restorative justice is seen as an important complement to the traditional justice system.”
Restorative justice furthers PFI’s vision of breaking the cycle of crime and restore lives worldwide through Jesus’s love. The organization’s work in the field dates back to 1996, when they launched the Centre for Justice & Reconciliation (restorativejustice.org) to serve as its knowledge base. Now internationally recognized experts in the field, PFI has implemented restorative justice programs in over 40 countries.
The premise of restorative justice is that justice should repair the harm that comes from wrongdoing. Woven into this definition are three key ideas: encounter, repair, and transform. The ideas are interconnected, and together they represent a journey toward well-being and wholeness that victims, offenders, and community members can experience.
Other event speakers included leaders from professional, academic, governmental, and civil society institutions from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, Bolivia, Uruguay, Spain, and Norway.
Prison Fellowship Uruguay recently received a donation of $500, and with this seed money, they established a hand sanitizing solution production line. The hand sanitizer is available in various scents, including lavender and pine.
Prison Fellowship Uruguay is donating the hand sanitizer products to prisons, as well as selling them at local markets to generate revenue for prison programs. Their long-term strategy is to partner with the Ministry of the Interior to be the supplier of these sanitizing solutions to Uruguay’s prisons.
The partnership will also support the rehabilitation of prisoners as part of Prison Fellowship Uruguay’s Canna Home, a half-way home for recently released, or selected soon-to-be-released prisoners. Established 13 years ago, Canaa Home provides the opportunity for residents to learn to farm and now also the production of sanitizer solutions as they prepare to re-enter their communities. This further reduces recidivism.
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