Best practices are specific, discrete ministry activities that measurably increase program scale, effectiveness, and/or efficiency, and can be replicated by other National Ministries. Best practices should be supported by evidence (data).
Once you have sensitized churches to the needs of prisoners and their families, you get to be the connector. Your role is a prison ministry, the local church’s role is pastoral.
The time that you spend interacting with prisoners and with prisoners’ families – getting to know them and to know their stories – is essential in helping to connect them to churches who can provide spiritual guidance, direction and connection locally. The goal is to have congregations who are mobilized. By connecting churches with prisoners and their families, you are helping to build direct lines for personal care.
What is the unique contribution a congregation can make to address this crisis?
Congregations can help make their communities safer, while also deepening and strengthening their faith and the bonds among one another. They can heal the hurting and the exiled; love the stranger as well as those whom all have held in scorn and contempt.
It can start by reaching out to just one person in your congregation. Or one family. That’s all it takes because that person’s or that family’s sorrows and struggles – when embraced by the faith community – will illuminate not only what must be done to help them, but also the many problems with the system and how it needs to be changed.
A community of faith can support the person accused, the victim of crime and the families of both. By not taking sides, by not blaming but forgiving, the church can create a climate that fosters reconciliation and redemption. Beyond spiritual and psychological support, it can use its own social networks to support the families in material and practical ways.
*Excerpt from “Balancing Justice with Mercy: An Interfaith Guide for Creating Healing Communities,” from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
1. Human Resources
In 'A child home visit with the Malawi team,' Sierra Roberts, coordinator of sponsor acquisition for PFI, writes how her recent visit showed her the true amount of work that NM staff puts into serving the children of prisoners. Sierra writes that Chimwemwe Magawa, PF Malawi TCJ program manager, describes it best: 'Being a part of The Child’s Journey is not a job, it’s a calling. If I saw it as a job, I would always be tired. But it is my calling, so it brings me life.'Read the entire post.
In 'Jurists as therapists that resolve social conflict,' Benson Iwuagwu, president of PF Nigeria, writes in The Guardian: 'Jurists are expected to apply the principles and procedures of law to resolve social schisms, not only to maintain law and order but also to ensure cases are resolved to satisfy both macro and micro interests of parties to a matter. In that guise, they are expected to apply the law therapeutically.'
The Lord Jesus gave his followers a model prayer, for all time, which has and will continue to be prayed throughout the years. It starts with “Our Father,” and as such, connects believers throughout history – in every time and every place – together as a family. We call this family, the Church or the Body of Christ. It is by definition in its nature and essence intimately related to God as Father, The Lord Jesus as its head and The Holy Spirit as its energizer.
A few weeks ago, while traveling in Colombia, I traveled to a small town near Medellin called Guadape. It is a very beautiful region, full of lakes and steep hills with a stunning ecological diversity. It is a town of approximately 20,000 inhabitants. I stayed in the town square in a second-floor apartment and woke early on Sunday morning to be greeted by church bells inviting the faithful to the church on the other side of the square. Of course, the service was in Spanish, but despite a severe lack of Spanish speaking ability, I decided to go. This plunged me into an unexpected experience that was more observational than normal.
The first thing that I saw was that the church was full of young and old, rich and poor, male and female, and four dogs who wandered around quite happily during the service.
The second observation was that although the faith confession was different to that which I am used to, it was also very familiar: The congregation began by singing praises to God, followed by an instruction from the pastor which, because of the few Spanish words that I do recognize, was about love. We were then called to confess our wrongdoing before God, which some did physically in front of a priest, then the man giving the sermon encouraged the congregation to show the sign of the peace to each other. Immediately following this, we entered into communion, where most took part in a common meal, where God declares that we are guiltless and free before Him because of all that He has done for us in Christ –bringing a reconciled community back together again around Himself. After a final song, the congregation dispersed with an encouragement to go in love to serve God and one another.
It lasted about one hour. And then, after an interval of another hour, the church filled up to capacity again with a different and yet at the same time similar group of worshippers who have the opportunity to set things right in their personal lives and in their community.
What struck me was that these good folk would encounter each other on a daily basis both before and after this encounter. And it is part of being human and broken that in our interactions on a daily basis, difficulties, stresses, strains, arguments, fights and plain wrongdoing will arise. However, through Christ, every day, or week in this case, the opportunity is there to resolve these issues through confession, restorative acts, and then going in love and peace to serve one another. In the context of a village setting, I cannot think of anything more community building. It was very beautiful, healing and restorative .
It is what the Church is meant to demonstrate – a healing and restorative community.
This is why PFI can rightly be described as a para-church organization, given that “para-“ in this context means to come alongside.
It is our privilege to work alongside and through local churches (and the individuals that comprise the local church). We are, by the grace of God able to empower our volunteers, giving the body of Christ an opportunity to serve the prisoner, their families and victims in line with Matthew 25. As I have said many times, the barriers to entry to prison work are high, both literally and metaphorically. But we can lower those barriers for those who are called to our work with prisoners, their families and victims. As such, we fulfill a second function of the Church, which is that as the body of Christ, we are our Lord and Savior’s hands and feet in service to those around us.
And this is a beautiful two-way street, as the PFI family is enriched by the diversity, talents, and giftings of those who are both our volunteers and members of the body of Christ.
This version of Touchstone adds more weight and best practice to some aspects of what working alongside churches and volunteers might look like for PF national ministries. I hope, however, that you will also look beyond this as simply growing your National Ministry, as good and necessary as that may be.
My encouragement is that we lift our eyes higher and see the symbiotic relationship that we, as members of the body of Christ, get to be a part of as we ‘live a life worthy of our calling’ and thus fulfill the words we have been taught to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven,” to those communities affected by imprisonment and crime.
“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” — Matthew 6:9-13