Prison Ministry

In his book Christian Economics: Activist Edition, Gary North has a chapter on volunteering.

(I suggest that you don’t spend the time looking for such a chapter in Mises’ or Rothbard’s work, the best among secular economics. Nevermind Keynes, or the Chicago School of Economics.

Marxists, of course, prefer compulsion and forced labour to volunteering.)

To return to North’s work on Christian economics. He touches on the parables of the talents and the ten virgins with oil lamps (Matthew 25), then gets to the core of the message. (The bold is mine.)

God divides humanity into two groups: the sheep and the goats. Eternal life goes to the sheep; eternal damnation goes to the goats. The primary characteristic of the sheep is charity toward the poor and needy. The primary characteristic of the goats is the opposite: a refusal to show mercy to the poor and needy.

and

The issue is this: what you do to the least among humanity represents your view of God, his kingdom, and eternity. If you do not share your wealth voluntarily with those who have none, this marks you as a person without mercy, a person who shows no grace.

Fear the LORD: show compassion to the small and the weak.

This includes prisoners and criminals, as well as slaves and children. We are to care for the very lowest in society if at all possible: with time and personal contact if you can afford it, or just with cash if that’s all you can give.

Jesus specifically referred to the visitation of prisoners. Prison minis- tries have been familiar to Christians ever since the beginning of the church. People in prison occupy the lowest rung in society. They are outcasts. They are models of what it means to be cast out of society. Some Christians are to show mercy to these people by visiting them in prison.

Of course, not all Christians can do this, but we all can care for some of the least in humanity. Maybe it is the prisoners, or the starving. Maybe unwed mothers, or orphans, or the abandoned elderly.

There is someone out there, someone with a ruined life, who needs your help. Help him. Give a hand to the old woman, alone in the winter of her life.

North decided to help the prisoners: not just with money (which is an honourable act, worthy of reward & respect) but in person. Time in person is a lot most costly than dollars, especially for successful men.

I speak from experience. I was part of an international prison ministry in the final years of the twentieth century. This ministry was a visitation ministry to men incarcerated in maximum-security prisons. A team of about 40 men met each week for six weeks prior to the visitation. Why? For prayer and training. Then we would go into the prison on a Thursday evening, and we would return each day until Sunday afternoon. We spent three and a half days talking with them at tables. The team brought in prepared food, which was the initial hook for most of them to attend the sessions. Attendance was by invitation only. The prison chaplain invited especially hard cases. The food we served was the best food they had in their entire term in prison, which in most cases lasted 20 years to life. It was simple food. Example: freshly prepared lasagna, freshly made salads, and all the ice cream and cookies they could eat. Or maybe they got hamburgers with fresh vegetable trimmings and condiments. Again, they got all the ice cream and cookies they could eat.

In order to be part of this visitation team, you had to volunteer to return to this prison for 12 consecutive weeks. Some of the volunteers had to drive two hours each way to get there. I had to drive 70 minutes each way. I showed up for the full 12 weeks each time I was part of a team. Showing up made a great difference. So did remembering their names. I was never good at this, but I learned how to do it in order to minister to these men. Just showing up and remembering their names were powerful tools of evangelism. It does not sound like much, but for these men, it was a great deal. I saw dozens of men whose lives were transformed by this simple program of visitation.

Don’t just believe in capitalism: believe in Christian capitalism.

And don’t just believe in it: live it out.

Love it out!

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