Free and Secure

Locked away, cut off from society, forgotten, Britney’s day-to-day routine serving a prison sentence was mundane. When there is nothing to look forward to—no visits or calls from family or friends, no celebrations, no special outings—it only increases the feelings of being hopeless and bored.

And Britney was bored. Then one day, something different happened—she received an invitation to participate in Prison Fellowship International’s eight-week in-prison evangelization program, The Prisoner’s Journey.

“I was not interested in the course,” says Britney. “I only signed up so I could come out of the cell.”

But after the second session, Britney realized she really needed this class because it could help her. She attended the sessions, learning about Jesus, why He came, and what it means to follow Him.

“The class impacted me in such a tremendous way—growing my knowledge of my Savior, building my faith, and showing me that all is not lost. God could still redeem and set me free. My mind became free and secure in my Father’s care.”

Britney completed the course, receiving a Bible and certificate during the graduation celebration.

When Britney was released from prison, she had accepted Christ as her Savior. She connected with a local church and continued to grow in her relationship with Christ. Soon, she was sharing her story to help others.

Today, Britney is a motivational speaker, especially for inmates. “I look at my graduation certificate each day. I say I will do everything for the will of God. I am grateful for the open door that gave me this start!”

A Christmas Message

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.”

Patricia’s Journey from Anger to Understanding

Patricia was angry. Very angry. She believed she did not deserve to be in prison. Her anger continued to smolder until volunteers came to her prison, in Spain, and invited her to participate in Prison Fellowship International’s eight-week in-prison evangelization program, The Prisoner’s Journey®. Immediately, Patricia identified with Jesus’s story.

The program teaches about Jesus—who was wrongly accused and imprisoned—why he came, and what he wants prisoners to do with their lives.

“At first, I thought the lesson The Prisoner’s Journey was teaching is that Jesus was also imprisoned without reason—just like how I thought I was!” says Patricia. “It wasn’t until I finished the course that I realized what I thought was the lesson was wrong.”

Patricia learned that Jesus was a man full of goodness, who always forgave everyone—even when he didn’t have to. Even when he was wrongly accused.

“I also learned that Jesus was rejected by society as all prisoners are, which has helped my anger, my anguish, and my fears to shrink,” says Patricia.

Patricia says she now prays that we would not be blinded and hindered by our obstacles. And instead, that we would take advantage of them so that we can grow spiritually. Just like how God met Patricia in her anger and revealed himself to her, igniting a journey toward understanding and healing.

Florence’s Spiritual Encounter

Breaking the cycle of crime is difficult. But through a holistic approach that cares for prisoners’ spiritual lives, physical needs, and family relationships, it’s not just possible—it’s happening. Florence, a prisoner and a mother of two from Zambia, will tell you.

“I was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor,” says Florence. “I felt sorry for myself, but there was nothing I could do at the time.”

When Florence went to prison, she left her young daughters, Ketty and Chisenga, in her father’s care, but he struggled to provide for their needs. Ketty and Chisenga stopped going to school because they couldn’t afford to buy shoes, clothes, and school supplies.

“I was so annoyed with myself because I was the one who had been providing for them, but now I couldn’t,” says Florence.

When it seemed hope was lost, a team from Prison Fellowship Zambia visited Florence’s prison to tell the inmates about a program that cared specifically for children of prisoners by providing them with food, clothing, spiritual care, home visits, and helping them pay for school fees.

Florence immediately registered her girls and, through Prison Fellowship Zambia, saw something greater at work in her life. While the staff sought out her children in their hometown, volunteers began visiting Florence and sharing about God’s love and faithfulness.

“I have seen the hand of God in my life,” says Florence. “I saw it while in prison. . . . After hearing the Word of God, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. That very day was the beginning of my transformation.”

To learn more about what it looks like to follow Jesus, Florence joined Prison Fellowship International’s in-prison evangelization program, The Prisoner’s Journey®. Through it, she learned more about who Jesus is and what he calls her to do with her life. After graduating from the eight-week program, Florence decided to take her faith one step further and join Prison Fellowship International’s Sycamore Tree Project, where she learned what it looks like to take responsibility for her action and make amends to the people she hurt.

Florence now considers herself a changed woman with a new focus in life.

“The greatest desire of my heart now is the Bible. I am very grateful to God and to Prison Fellowship Zambia. [They are] Indeed doing amazing things in the lives of inmates and their children.”

Mitchum’s Transformation

The Prisoner’s Journey® evangelism and discipleship program is changing hearts and minds across the globe. The program was recently implemented in the Caribbean region. Mitchum, a prisoner in the Cayman Islands, says before taking the eight-week course, he worried a lot and regularly felt depressed and confused.

“As I listened to and watched the videos and participated in The Prisoner’s Journey, I found out who Jesus really is,” says Mitchum. “He is the Son of God and came to save us from sin.”

Halfway through the course, Mitchum and two other men asked to be baptized.

“It was the best decision I ever made in my life,” says Mitchum. “I have found my Lord and Savior. Any problems I have, I take to Him in prayer and ask Him to show me the way. I ask him to protect me each step that I take and the choices that I make. I have an inner peace that can only come from God.”

Give a to Help Prisoners Like Mitchum Hear the Gospel

Changing Lives in Uruguay

Cristihian Melo is a graduate of The Prisoner’s Journey program offered by Prison Fellowship Uruguay. He shares his story:

“I was incarcerated in the Durazno Prison for 11 months. I agreed to attend the course when I was invited because I told myself that it would just be listening, watching some videos, and filling out a book. I thought it will be good to read a little—and that was the only thing that mattered to me.

But something happened while I participated in the sessions. I became interested in the Gospel of Mark workbook. Then, I was shocked by the videos. I looked forward to the sessions and knew my head had changed.

Today, I am free. I have changed my way of thinking. I am with my family again. I have a house and I am working. I no longer want to do wrong. I have a different way of seeing things. This course changed my thinking and God changed my life.”

Help A Prisoner Like Christihan Today

Gospel Reaches Nigerian Prisoners Despite Lockdown

Despite strict COVID-19 lockdown guidelines prohibiting Prison Fellowship Nigeria staff or volunteers from entering prisons, the Gospel continues to reach prisoners in Nigeria through The Prisoner’s Journey evangelism and discipleship program and other initiatives.

Today, while external volunteers cannot access prisons to facilitate The Prisoner’s Journey, the course continues to run via prisoner volunteers and prison officers. However, many of the program’s graduation ceremonies—a highlight for prisoners—have not been able to take place.

While it is unclear when prisons will reopen their doors to visitors and outside staff, Prison Fellowship Nigeria is not deterred. In addition to The Prisoner’s Journey, they continue to innovate new ways to reach prisoners and meet their immediate needs. In response to COVID-19, Prison Fellowship Nigeria created a new program to make hygiene kits for prisoners. This program gained so much traction, it inspired one prison to provide financial support to create more kits to be distributed to every prison in the country.

Help Support COVID-19 Relief Today

Partnership Expands Prison Ministry in Chile

Bible League International (BLI) and Prison Fellowship International (PFI) are partnering to develop solutions to the problems of crime and incarceration worldwide. This week, the organizations, which both have proven evangelism and discipleship programs in prisons around the world, are launching an evangelism and discipleship ministry, which invites prisoners to experience the transforming power and redemptive love of Christ, in Santiago, Chile—the first of 59 countries over the next five years.

“Each ministry brings complementary strengths, products, and relationships to this partnership,” says Jos Snoep, President and CEO of Bible League International. “Together we are able to reach so many more prisoners with the saving and transformative Good News of God’s Word, and then see their lives transformed.”

The organizations offer prisoners a continuum of evangelism and discipleship programming. Based on the Gospel of Mark, PFI’s The Prisoner’s Journey® introduces Jesus, who was also a prisoner, and is deeply relatable. This eight-week program is designed to run three times per year in each prison. Through 16 course videos, participants also hear stories from prisoners around the world whose lives have been changed through their personal journeys with Jesus. Upon completion of the program, course graduates receive their own easy-to-read Bible, God’s Word: Your Journey to Freedom from BLI, and are invited to continue their journey with Jesus through BLI’s Prison Project Philip Bible studies, a 52-lesson series embedded in the Freedom Bible.

BLI provides participants with the Bibles and training they need to lead the studies with other inmates. Each Prison Project Philip participant is encouraged to become part of a local church, whether behind bars or within their community post-release.

“The combination of these evangelism and discipleship studies is life-changing for prisoners,” says PFI CEO Andy Corley. “We’ve found when a prisoner is transformed at a heart-level, his or her chances of thriving outside of prison dramatically increase. We’re also finding it creates a positive shift in the prison culture. Prison officials are telling us there are fewer fights and a calmer atmosphere within their prisons after inmates go through the program. We believe this is an end-to-end solution to the problem of repeat offenders, and we’re grateful for Bible League International’s committed partnership in this effort.”

The two organizations first partnered together in 2014 when BLI donated 25,000 prison Bibles to PFI’s then newly launched program, which has since graduated more than 250,000 prisoners. In an effort to reach nearly 2 million prisoners in 59 countries by 2024, the partners plan to graduate 825,000 prisoners from The Prisoner’s Journey, distribute 688,000 easy-to-read Bibles in 11 languages, and enroll 416,000 participants in Prison Project Philip.

About Bible League International:
Bible League International serves under-resourced churches with Bibles and training to transform lives through God’s Word. For more information, visit bibleleague.org.

This story was originally posted on Christian News Wire.

MARIA JOSE | Colombia

Maria Jose bursts with joy at a gathering for children of prisoners in Colombia.

Maria Jose’s Secret

Maria Jose is nine years old. She is bright and outgoing, and her smile cheers a whole room. But she has a sad secret: four years ago her father Alfredo was sent to prison. He won’t be released until after she graduates high school. She misses him every day—so much she’s developed severe anxiety. Maria Jose looks forward to the few hours she gets to visit him each month. Today is that day.

She wakes up early, selects her best outfit, and pulls on her favorite knit cap to cover the bald spots on her head. Here’s a secret Maria Jose can’t hide: a year ago, she started losing her hair. The doctors call it Alopecia—they say it’s caused by chronic anxiety and severe stress.

The loss of Maria Jose’s father is unbearable. The loss of her hair is embarrassing. And the stares and whispers from children in her neighborhood make her want to disappear. In Colombia, it is especially shameful to be related to a prisoner. Basic things like food and medical care are scarce, because Maria Jose’s mother Consuelo can only work two days a week, as a housekeeper, for very little pay. Maria Jose worries about her mother, too, who has been so ill she was recently hospitalized.

“Taking care of our home and raising my daughter alone are so difficult without Alfredo around,” says Consuelo. “María Jose needs a father figure.”

***

Weak family relationships and lack of parental support, along with hopelessness and persistent separation anxiety are shared experiences among thousands of children of prisoners around the world. Heartbreakingly, these internalized struggles are also among the leading causes of adolescent suicide.

Thousands more children of prisoners throughout the world are in desperate need. They live in impoverished, unsafe conditions; lack food, clothes, medicine, and the chance to go to school. They need to know they are seen and loved. And through our caring network of supporters and God’s grace, thousands of children of prisoners in eight countries are receiving life-saving care and the opportunity to regain their hope and understand their value in the light of God’s love.

 

Help a Child Like Maria Jose Get the Life-Saving Care He or She Needs

 

***

On her way to visit her father in prison, Maria Jose travels through a steep maze of hillside shacks to where Medellín’s mountains touch the valley floor. There stands Bellavista Prison. It’s scary to walk the overcrowded, cell-lined halls that house thousands of Colombia’s worst criminals. There are also thousands of prisoners, like María Jose’s father, who desperately need to hear about the hope and love only Jesus can bring. Our supporters are helping us bring justice and healing in response to crime by sharing the Gospel with prisoners.

After hours of waiting in a small holding room, Maria Jose is taken to the prison’s courtyard to see her father. A huge smile lights her face, as she practically leaps into his outstretched arms.

“It was worth it,” she later tells her caseworker. 

 

Maria Jose dances with a Prison Fellowship International staff member.

Since her father has been in prison, Maria Jose has noticed a change in him. He talks about God now, and says he feels peace.

Alfredo participated in Prison Fellowship International’s in-prison evangelism and discipleship program, The Prisoner’s Journey®, which introduced him to Jesus in a personal way. Alfredo says his time in prison has given him the opportunity to search for God.

“I want to walk with God, so he can help me rebuild my life,” he says.

With our supporters help, we have now reached more than 217,000 prisoners, just like Alfredo, in 30 countries, with the message of the Gospel.

 

Give the Life-Changing Gift of the Gospel Message to a Prisoner

 

***

María Jose, Consuelo, and Alfredo are beautiful testimonies of how our supporters’ gifts impact an entire family. The practical help and care they receive is making a true difference for families who have so little, but are now experiencing hope and restoration in a broken and hurting world.

Now, María Jose receives food, medical care to manage her incurable Alopecia, and emotional counseling to help her heal from the trauma of her father’s incarceration. That emotional support is so vital to regaining her confidence.

 

A caring supporter sent Maria Jose a box of caps to add to her collection—a simple way to help Maria Jose regain her self-confidence.

María Jose also has the comfort of a Christian caseworker, who visits her regularly to ensure she lives in safety and has opportunities to interact with other children of prisoners, get plugged into a local church community, and stay connected with her father in prison. This helps to build her relationships, ease her anxiety, and feel accepted, supported, and loved. Consuelo says it gives her hope to know people are caring for her family.

“I know I am not alone in this.”

We are so grateful for the difference our caring network of supports are making in the lives of families like Maria Jose, Consuelo, and Alberto. Just imagine the eternal impact of that support.

 

 Give Now to Support a Family in Need of Practical Care and God’s Hope

NEW BEHAVIORAL STUDY IN PRISONS | The Prisoner’s Journey

New Behavioral Study to Explore Impact of Bible-Based Programming in Prisons

 

Support Our Prison Outreach Work

 

Prison Fellowship International (PFI) announced the commencement of a 40-month study to show the impact of a Bible-based program, The Prisoner’s Journey®, in prisons throughout Colombia, Nigeria, and South Africa.

There are more than 22,000 prisons worldwide, and more than 10 million incarcerated. Over the last 15 years, the worldwide prison population has grown almost 20 percent with the rate of repeat offenders soaring as high as 50 percent. Critics of contemporary criminal justice argue that by focusing exclusively on punitive justice, prisoners are not effectively rehabilitated and demonstrate greater difficulty reintegrating back into society and remaining outside the crime cycle upon release.

Prison Fellowship International developed The Prisoner’s Journey evangelism and discipleship program to address this issue by appealing to the internal transformation of prisoners as a rehabilitative method. First piloted in Nigeria and South Africa in 2014, it has spread to 30 countries, reaching nearly 400,000 prisoners, and is expected to reach 1 million prisoners by 2020.

“During the four years we’ve been running The Prisoner’s Journey we’ve found when a prisoner is transformed at a heart-level, his or her chances of thriving outside of prison dramatically increase,” says Prison Fellowship International Director of Prison Programming Rae Wood. “We receive regular reports from prison officials that prisoners are calmer and fewer fights breakout among inmates after they go through the program. This study will be a breakthrough for us in empirically demonstrating the program’s long-term impact on the individual, the prison culture, and the local community.”

The study will be led by Dr. Byron Johnson, a prominent expert on the scientific study of religion, faith-based rehabilitation programs, and criminal justice. In February, the research team will begin collecting baseline data to launch a comparative analysis of prisoner behavior and outcomes between prisons that implement The Prisoner’s Journey programs and those that do not. The study will also provide a prison cost-savings analysis of the program from reduced prison incidents, lower recidivism rates, and the prosocial benefits from family (re)engagement and improved employment for ex-prisoners. Johnson will publish his findings in relevant academic and peer-reviewed journals over the next three years.

 

Support Our Prison Outreach Work

 

ABOUT DR. BYRON JOHNSON:
Byron Johnson is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University and founding director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion. He is recognized as a leading authority on the scientific study of religion, the efficacy of faith-based organizations, offender treatment, and recidivism reduction. His recent book, The Angola Prison Seminary: Effects of Faith-Based Ministry on Identity Transformation, Desistance, and Rehabilitation, uses survey analysis along with life-history interviews of inmates and staff to examine the impact of faith and the implications of religious programs for American correctional systems.