We often focus our attention during Lent on our outreach ministry to prisoners through “A New Day in Christ.” Being involved with this ministry allows us the opportunity to be part of the larger work of the universal church, even though we are a very small community. We know, without a doubt, that the devotional guide ministers to the least and the lost. Because we have been led into a ministry that, it often seems, no one else wants. There are no limits to the opportunity to connect with thousands of people across the country in a real, personal way.
Wait—what? How personal? Only a few of those we have corresponded with through the devotional ministry have ever actually shown up for worship!
Through the devotional guide, everyone who has written a meditation has shared a small part of their own faith journey with the thousands of recipients across the country. And those people are so deeply appreciative of that part of you. They pray for us, First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and for many of you individually by name. God is also ministering to us in this work. God has provided us meaningful opportunities to serve and share fellowship in a loving work environment. Some people have found volunteering to be great training on the way to a “real job.” Others find it personally rewarding to share in the process of providing a gift of great value to the world.
Great value? Really? It’s only a book after all… it isn’t even the whole Bible!
True, we generally do not share Bibles with those with whom we correspond. We are grateful to know there are other ministries who distribute Bibles among prisoners as their primary mission. So we share a little reminder, every day, from a regular person, someone who may also be struggling, learning to be more faithful, but took the time to think about scripture and write a message. And it is just enough to remind them that this is a journey we are all on together. We also recently partnered with The Cumberland Presbyterian Discipleship Ministries Team, headquartered at the denominational Center in Memphis, to distribute the remainder copies of the “Encounter” adult Bible study booklets among prisoners who are seeking a more serious study of the Bible.
If we recognized that God is in control of this ministry, we can’t expect know where or how it is being used. But sometimes we get little glimpses. A phone call came in a few days ago. My best recollection of her words follow…
Hi, I’m Connie. I’m a deputy in a jail in Kentucky…
(When I hear these words, I expect what follows to be one of these requests: 1.) please stop sending your book to this jail, or 2.) please send 100 cases of your book to distribute to the inmates.)
…and I’m a single mom, I have to work two jobs to keep things together. So I work third shift at the jail, and with my kids and my second job, I have a real hard time getting any sleep during the day. I am just exhausted, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I was brought up in church, but then life got complicated, I thought I didn’t have time, so I drifted off. Things have really been going the wrong direction in my life, but a few months ago, a female inmate showed me your book. This action was so out of character for this girl to approach me with anything other that hatred and disrespect. It really shook me up, and I was trying to not show it, because in the jail you have to be hard. But God ministered to me through that inmate, and your book. The reading went straight to my heart and I wanted to know where this book came from. Then I was amazed that she pulled out your letter and gave it to me. She told me you would send me one if I just asked. It’s just unexplainable how unlikely this whole conversation was, I know now that God was working in her to get to me! I ordered the devotional and every day it seems like the message is just what I need to hear. God is breaking down the walls, and there is joy and hope in my life again. I have a friend who is also going through a hard time, and I want you to send him a copy of this devotional book. I want him to know he’s not alone!
This conversation blew me away! The depth of layers of this ministry became visible me. How many people have been enabled to share the love God has shown to them? First you, when you wrote the message, then the creative minds that conceptualized and put it on the page. What an accomplishment for all of us to be proud of. But then we send it out there into the world. And it is beyond our control, and it takes on its own work and becomes part of the spiritual practice of people we don’t know… and they share it with others, it becomes their ministry too, and God uses our words to stir the hearts of people who have never been to Texas (what a shame).
One of the things I try to do is keep track of who we’re sending the devotional to and where they reside. But it’s impossible. I got a letter from Jay in TDCJ Central Unit in Sugar Land, TX that provided a surprise to me, because for whatever reason, Central Unit will not allow the devotional guide in. This bothers me, since Sugar Land is right here in our own backyard. But Jay wrote:
I found a copy of your blue book called “A New Day in Christ”
in the cabinet where the fire extinguisher is supposed to be. That fire extinguisher has been gone ever since I been in this unit (almost 12 years) but for some reason, that’s where your little book showed up. I need to confess to someone that the day I found it, I was in such deep depression, I had been planning a way to take my own life. Finding that book seemed like a sign. The reading kind of soothed me, and I just went back to my bunk and I prayed for the first time in my life. It felt like God lifted a weight off of me. I read it every day for over three years. It was kind of torn up when I found it, now it’s really worn out, pages are starting to come out.
Will you send me another one? I’ve still got 8 years.
I am currently the one and only staff person at New Day in Christ Ministries. I am the one who gets all the calls from the finicky postal employees about ridiculous postal regulation and massive rate hikes. I am the one who gets to listen to all the heartbreaking stories of lives wasted by drugs and families torn up by incarceration. I am the one who gets to hear all the praise stories like Connie’s and Jay’s. I am truly blessed.