March 22nd, 2011 at 12:42 pm
My life has been immensely changed as God has used me to direct Inmate Discipler Fellowship (IDF) over the years. The most humbling thing is to see how God intersects with an ordinary life and transforms it into an extraordinary person for His use. IDF curriculum has its focus on the disciplines of the faith, instead of just Bible information. Becoming intrinsically acquainted with these discipleship studies has led me to knowing God more through experience, rather than simply knowing more about Him.
This personal journey has kept me in awe of what God has done in the lives of men and women who have given themselves to God for Him to mold. I have even observed the faithful men and women who volunteer to facilitate discipleship classes have their lives changed as much as the inmates. Perhaps they wanted to help the safety of our society through nurturing these inmates to transform their ways, yet they were touched as much by the inmates they served as they were dedicated to the task of discipleship.
I, like many others, seem to take how God has worked so much for granted. I am reminded of Moses, David and Paul, three ordinary men that God used in an extraordinary way to have His Word written to us. These three men were responsible by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for much of Scripture, yet all three were murderers. God is in the business of redirecting our paths to be one with His.
Today the inmate population represents a large segment of society. This segment is convicted of having a negative impact on our citizens. The frequency of re-incarceration after finishing a sentence is extremely high. IDF strives to reduce recidivism by teaching how to live within God’s will through discipleship courses. True transformation is extremely hard for many inmates and a love relationship with Jesus Christ is the only answer. The rewards of transformation are so appreciated by individuals that it is not unusual to receive notes such as this one:
“I would like to thank you personally…,” because this course helped me get back on my feet…” I did not know where to turn as I was falling. “…I feel even more confidence [to face] … what life brings.” I guess that’s why they call it Survival Kit!
As inmates progress, they learn to write an essay in response to the study they complete. As the average educational ability of the incarcerated is grade school level, this can be a scary task for some students. Writing an essay helps the student think about the impact the study has had on him or her. It serves as a self-evaluation so the inmate can appreciate his or her newfound life satisfaction and positive impact he can have on others. Having a positive impact on others is a new experience for many. Here is a response from a student in MasterLife.
“This study helped me through a tough time. It started off with the Disciple’s Cross, which taught putting Christ in the center of my life and branching off from there… Doing the daily quiet time helped me listen to God and not just talk to him. “… The daily quiet time was difficult at first because I was doing it with no results, well not the results I was looking for … but as I surrendered more I began to hear His voice and follow what He was telling me to do. …I am growing stronger in the Lord and learning to deny myself daily…”
Prisons are full of self-indulgent people who do not care about others. Many inmates just use individuals in their path as a thing to gain some advantage of some kind or another. Self denial is a concept many have never before experienced or considered. What a miracle, then, it is when this an inmate proclaims:
“The Holy Spirit shows me when my heart isn’t right. I immediately confess and ask God to forgive me and to restore my heart.”
While leading the small group discussion at a faith-based Dorm, one young man exclaimed;
“Wow! Ya’ll are really giving us the tools to break this cycle [of prison living] so my son doesn’t have to follow in my footsteps. This is the real help I need!”
Greater than reading these comments, is to the countless lives I have seen get out of prison and are now serving and giving back to their community. How has this changed my life? I am as passionate and committed as ever and believe that revival in our nation may very well come out of our prison system.
By Mark Hollis, Texas Baptist Men Inmate Discipler Fellowship director