This is part 4 in a series celebrating Pastoral Care Week 2015: Spiritual Care Together, October 25-31, 2015. Read part 1 of the series here. Read part 2 of the series here. Read part 3 of the series here.
By Susan Barnett
However, this is not depressing when, as a Christian, I know of the person and the hope they can have through Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. There is a saying that people who turn to God while in prison won’t last on the outside. That is, it is a “jailhouse” religion. This is true some of the time, but not all of the time. For instance, I am in communication with approximately six women from early on in my ministry in Fort Worth, Texas (1996-2001). Each of these women, my sisters in Christ, have been out for over 10 years and doing well. The ones I know are still walking with Christ and members of a church. Two of these women are continually called upon as guest speakers at churches, groups of parolees and probationers, group homes for teenagers, AIDS’ seminars, etc.
Much of a prison chaplain’s time is spent accommodating the faiths of all religions. We have the privilege of leading services and studies out of our faith preference – Christian/Protestant.
Currently, I serve at the Federal Correctional Complex in Tucson, Arizona. Just at the penitentiary alone there are over 18 different religions and 1,700 men. The complex also includes a medium custody facility of about 600 men, a Camp of 140 men and two detention centers, together housing over 2,400 men and women. One of the times when a chaplain can be a chaplain/minister to anyone is when an individual receives bad news from home. This is when we can be a minister “to the least of these” – most who do not know Christ. This serves as an opportunity to show compassion, kindness, and the love of Christ. This is also an opportunity to see where they are and discern how as a chaplain I can help them become part of chapel services.
Most recently, we started both English and Spanish “Experiencing God” studies by Henry Blackaby. As a chaplain, it’s important to disciple men so that they can turn around and teach the class again.
This time the two men teaching had pasts that would have never come together in a prison chapel – that of a “known” sex offender and a “known” gang leader. These two men not only facilitate the group together but one man considers the other “like a father” and the other “like a son.” This, of course, is definitely the love of Christ breaking down huge boundaries. Also, while I was visiting this class a few weeks ago they were sharing their testimonies. Out of a group of 12, one man was a former pagan/white supremacist, another a Muslim. These men from very, very different walks of life have come together to “experience God” in hopefully ways they would have never imagined.
Please pray for prison chaplains all over our country. Sometimes we work with very difficult people and at other times we see the love of Christ melt the hearts of those we would never have expected — probably like someone once said or thought of us!
Susan Barnett is a CBF-endorsed chaplain serving as a Supervisory Chaplain at the Federal Correctional Complex in Tuscon, Arizona.