A Work in Progress

    Twenty-five years ago, I didn't know if Prison Fellowship would see its first anniversary, let alone a twenty-fifth. But as we celebrate a quarter century of ministry this week, I stand in awe of what God has done.   Twenty-five years ago, I was struggling with what God wanted me to do. I had been out of prison for a year. A few associates and I were working to disciple some prisoners, but things were not going very well. Prison officials viewed us as amateur security risks. But God had big plans for us, and, as he often does, he used adversity to bring them to pass. For example, in 1977, warden George Ralston, of the Oxford, Wisconsin prison, refused to furlough any of his prisoners to attend our discipleship seminars in Washington. "If you guys are so good," he said, "why don't you bring your ministry INSIDE the prison and teach it here?" We thought he was calling our bluff, but he wasn't. Ralston's challenge turned out to be another door God was opening -- to take our seminars behind bars. We ended up that week with ninety inmates, twenty-five of them coming to Christ. A wonderful ministry! Now, we do 2,000 of those seminars per year, with thousands coming to Christ. We also realized, through that experience, that we had to become volunteer driven. We knew that Prison Fellowship's impact over the long run would depend on equipping believers from the local churches to develop long-term, mentoring relationships with offenders. In 1978, when the film version of my book Born Again hit the theaters, it sparked a surge of interest from Christians who wanted to get involved in prison ministry. By year's end, Prison Fellowship had more than 3,000 volunteers leading Bible studies and seminars in prisons. Today, there are 50,000. In the early 1980s, God moved in other surprising ways. There was a threatened riot in Wall Walla state penitentiary, one of the most notorious prisons in the U.S. I was called in to try to broker some kind of peace between the inmates and the administration. You couldn't imagine a tougher bunch of convicts; but in the end, they put their trust in us. Prison Fellowship was able to work for justice in that institution. And then, two things happened. First, those inmate leaders turned their lives over to Christ. Second, we began to see that the Bible compels Christians to work for justice. God worked through our time at Walla Walla to form Justice Fellowship, our criminal justice reform outreach. JF seeks to bring a biblically informed worldview to our nation's criminal justice system. And then in the 1980s and 90s, Prison Fellowship established aftercare programs to help ex-offenders lead productive lives. We started Angel Tree -- today 600,000 kids have a Christmas who wouldn't have one otherwise; we began to minister to crime victims; and we began to speak to worldview issues through BreakPoint. God has raised this ministry up to be one of the boldest witnesses of our time. We go places where no one else wants to go and demonstrate to a callous, uncaring world that God loves even "the least of these." I'm amazed as I reflect on what God has done over the years. But I believe that Prison Fellowship's greatest days are ahead -- that God will magnify this witness and use it to demonstrate, not only the life- changing power of Jesus Christ, but also the world- changing power of God's people when they have the courage to live out the Gospel.


Chuck Colson


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