I fear the “prison ministry” message is getting lost behind a swelling chorus of need clamoring for our attention. The loss of voice is not just an economy issue or an age issue (see “Where Are All the Young Leaders” PDF by Youth Direct‘s Don Smarto) – although these issues reflect real concerns regarding the advancement of prison ministry – but it’s also a mind share issue.
With so many ministries gaining so much media attention, the market has become flooded with need-based messages. This is not necessarily bad. These new-ish kids on the block are all worthy of our attention:
- Blood:Water Mission (est. 2005) and Charity:Water (est. 2006) address the challenges presented by the clean water crises in Africa and other developing nations,
- The ONE Campaign (est. 2004) fights extreme poverty,
- The Hands and Feet Project cares for orphans in Haiti (est. 2004),
- Kiva (est. 2004) provides loans to finance business opportunities in impoverished regions of the world,
- Mercy Ministries (est. 1983), a free, faith-based residential program, helps women (ages 13-28) heal from addictions, eating disorders, self-harm, depression and unplanned pregnancies.
- and the End It Movement (est. 2013), a multi-organizational focus on sex slavery and child labor championed by 60,000 college students at the 2013 Passion Conference, shines a bright light on the dark practice of human trafficking.
Remember Those in Prison
But we still need to make room in our minds, hearts, time and wallets for more established nonprofits, including the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (est. 1946), Compassion International (est. 1952) and Prison Fellowship (1976).
“We believe that no life is beyond the reach of God’s power, and we envision a future in which countless prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families, are redeemed, restored, and reconciled through the love and truth of Jesus Christ.” – Prison Fellowship
Prison Fellowship “was founded by Chuck Colson, President Nixon’s ‘hatchet man,’ in 1976,” states prisonfellowship.org. “After he served time in a federal prison camp, Chuck felt led by God to honor a promise he made to remember prisoners and their families.” With Colson’s death last April, Prison Fellowship continues in this critical work with a variety of in-prison, after-care and family programs, including Bible studies and seminars for inmates, “Prisoner to Pastors” and “InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI)” re-entry programs, Angel Tree outreach to children of inmates.
“Children of prisoners have a 70% chance of going to prison when they grow up.” – Child Evangelism Fellowship
Prison Fellowship also facilitates inter-organizational initiatives between 30+ prison ministry members of Operation Starting Line (OSL). Members of OSL produced 120 events in 2012, which were attended by more than 17,500 inmates.
“At least 95% of all state prisoners will be released from prison at some point.” – Bureau of Justice Statistics (2009)
That’s the good news. The bad news is the significant decrease in donations to Prison Fellowship and other prison ministry organizations, an economic challenge that has resulted in a reduction in staff and programming.
“80% of inmates lose 100% contact with the outside world within two years.” – Source Unknown
It’s hard to choose who to support with our limited time and money. If you try to base it on which organization is more deserving – the ONE Campaign or Charity:Water, the MS Society or Kiva, Mercy Ministries or Prison Fellowship, you’ll find your mind and heart splintered by great need. All of these organizations provide vital outreach to communities in need.
Seek God’s Mind for Yours
Instead, I encourage you to seek God’s direction for your resources. To what ministry(ies) is He drawing you through life experience or heart connection? What organizations compel you to act? Identify 1-3 organizations that God has connected you to and invest. Invest your mind and heart, invest your time and money, invest your connections to others hearts and wallets. But choose – for your sake and for theirs – or you’ll find yourself divided and inconsistent in your support of any of these worthy causes.
Louie Giglio (@LouieGiglio), founder of Passion Conferences, engages the young adult generation like no one else I know, and Passion’s past “Do Something Now” and new “End It Movement” campaigns deserve mass attention, but before committing to these or other current above-the-fold (media term for “headline news”) organizations, go to God and inquire of Him as to where He desires your attention, your strengths, your funds, your energies, your voice.
Nonprofits need partners who will share the load and share the stories long-term, who will walk along side life-changing initiatives in a way that testifies both to communities in need as well communities with means.
“But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am, and I’m not about to let his grace go to waste.” – 1 Corinthians 15:10, The Message