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).
Connecting children with an incarcerated parent may be what holds this key relationship together. Parental separation due to incarceration profoundly impacts a children’s psychological, affective, relational, developmental, and financial well-being; part of our ministry to prisoners can be to provide an opportunity to minimize the negative relational impact. Both the child and the incarcerated parent need to stay connected.
EU-funded research indicates that 25 percent of prisoners’ children are at risk of increased mental health difficulties; further studies suggest that regular, direct contact with an imprisoned parent helps promote resilience in children.
Strengthening the connection between incarcerated parent(s) and children could also bring about positive societal benefits in the form of reduced recidivism, healthy child development, and breaking the generational cycle of crime.
Some of the best ways to maintain this connection include visitation (contact and no contact), telephone, videoconferencing, letter writing, drawing and pictures.
1. Human Resources
In the first book of the Hebrew Bible (translated in English as ‘origin’ or ‘beginnings’), God blesses Adam and Eve to be fruitful to multiply and to fill the Earth. It is His intent that they do this, and all humankind after them. His ‘method’ for this to occur is in families. Families are thus the first, and one of very few, institutions that God has given in the Bible.
They are important.
They are ‘beginnings.’
They are fundamental.
The fact that so many family relationships in the Bible are dysfunctional and sometimes toxic does not alter one jot the design for good which is inherent in its makeup. In a Psalm that I quote often, God tells us that He places the lonely in families and leads the prisoner to prosperity.
“Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a family; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.” (Psalm 68:5-6, ESV)
(In His holy habitation means ‘when He is at home’ in the Andy Corley Transliterated version, which is only a thing in my head by the way!)
I believe the primary meaning and understanding has to be by context the nuclear family (a husband, wife and children ideally, but not restrictively: think single parent families). But Jesus clearly expands our thinking to the whole global family when He referred to His followers as being His family and taught us to pray to one, ‘our’ Father.
And if ever there were a time to emphasize this oneness of global family, bleeding with the same color blood in a fractured world, where innocents and families are being torn apart, then it is now. The events of the last week have left no doubt as to the ways in which mankind’s inhumanity, pride and ambition come into direct opposition with the aims of God for those He has created in terms of flourishing shalom.
Relationship is at the heart of our created order because God himself is relationship. Three-In-One. It is no mistake to read the first verse of the Bible as “In the beginning God the Divine relationship created the heavens and the Earth.” The Hebrew word for God (Elohim) is plural but the word created (bara) is a singular act of cooperation. That His primary means of restoration of human beings – after the ultimate relational fracture – is to place us firstly back into relationship with Himself, has always been axiomatic for believers. The Lord Jesus (truly and properly God and man) is the ultimate example of the lengths to which He would go.
Amazingly the order of our physical world Is also one of relationship. The atom, the smallest building block for matter in the universe, is comprised of particles which are held together through bonds of relationship. Disrupt these bonds and you have a destructive event that is called a nuclear explosion.
In a deeply mysterious way, it also seems God is teaching us that relationships are fundamental and at the heart of the universe.
In this sense, everyone on the planet is the ‘owner of a lonely heart’ that God wishes to re-place in His family. We are all out of the beautiful garden and looking for re-entry.
It is this mystical underpinning of God-created order and reality that makes our work with families, children and parents so beautiful. To be able to play a part in the continued flourishing of a family despite a parent being incarcerated is a privilege. These acts of grace have future downstream, quite likely eternal consequences for the recipient and all image-bearers alike (both the recipient and channel of service), if I am reading my Bible correctly. (See Matthew 25)
Never underestimate how future generations might be impacted by a small intervention that breaks a cycle of crime.
Never underestimate how this changes us in the privilege of serving, as we encounter Jesus Christ in those we serve.
We have thousands of these stories between us as a global family. Only last week I met the recipient of such an intervention in Medellin – a young man now in his early 20s who is an accountant. He had been in Prison Fellowship Colombia’s The Child’s Journey program. He wanted everybody to know what a difference this had made to his future and how grateful he was to God and PFC.
By the grace of God our intent is to have tens of thousands more.
This issue of Touchstone is dedicated to best practice in the area of families with an incarcerated parent. It is one of our additions to the work of the Global Family designed for your assistance, impact and acceleration.
Thank you for all you are doing. Let’s do more.
As I travel around, I have the privilege of seeing this from a global perspective. Your work is inspiring, and I believe it is of the highest order of beauty in God’s eyes. In the final analysis, I believe this is one of very few things that will truly matter and carry over into eternity for us.
May The Lord grant us all wisdom, perseverance and determination to continue our work while ever there is a single family whose lives are needlessly blighted by a set of circumstances for which they are not responsible.
We continue (together) to break the cycle of crime and restore lives worldwide through Jesus’s love.