By Kevin A. Suic
If a poll were taken of Christians in this country concerning where the most success in evangelism would be, reformatories or prisons would not likely be very high on the list. In fact, “prison evangelism” is considered by many to be a waste of time. Indeed, there have been many more failures than successes in prisons. However, I would like to share with you a wonderful work taking place in the Indiana State Reformatory in Pendleton, Indiana.
In July of 1980, Walter and Hazel Maley of the Woodland Hills, Marion, IN church contacted Arnold Thompson of the South Noblesville, IN church about visiting Roger Dockery, an inmate at Pendleton. Brother Thompson asked Alan Jones, the local preacher, to go with him. Through the efforts of several Christians, Roger was soon converted to Christ. In the spring of 1981, Roger was granted clemency by the Governor because the change in his life was apparent to all. Since that time, he has begun a business in furniture upholstering, a trade which he learned in prison. In 1982, he married the former Brenda Hood, a Christian and member of the Fort Wayne, IN church. They now have a son. He and his family are faithful members of the Fort Wayne church, where he is now a Bible class teacher and occasionally preaches a sermon.
After the conversion of Roger Dockery, Alan Jones continued to go once a week to Pendleton to teach the Gospel. In August of 1981, Phil Morgan joined Alan in the work. By September of 1985, opportunities had multiplied so much that Joe McCameron and I were asked to help. The four of us going at least every other week since 1985 has caused the opportunities to grow greatly. Contacts have almost continually been made.
The Present Status
Earlier this year, due to the great opportunities and need, Alan Jones decided to devote all of his time to this work. Alan goes to Pendleton Monday – Thursday of every week. He studies with at least two men every day. Phil, Joe, and I continue to go once a week. All together, fourteen inmates are presently studying the Bible once a week. Our Bible studies are organized. We have a four lesson series which we study with each new contact. This series is designed to lead one to Christ. By the end of this series, we can usually determine their sincerity and what their further needs are. We also teach lessons on the Book of Acts, Denominationalism, Evidences, and Authority to those who have need of such lessons. For those who are new converts, we have a series of lessons to help them mature in Christ. One Christian is presently studying Bible History and Geography. In addition to our classes, we send Bible correspondence courses and reading material to those who request such.
Our present goal in addition to spreading the Word even more, is to get what is called a “count-letter.” This is where up to fifteen inmates can meet with a group from the outside for two hours. This would provide several opportunities: (1) The Christians in there could worship together and form a sense of unity; (2) They would be able to meet other Christians from the outside; (3) The gospel could be preached to an audience of inmates. Eventually, we also hope to arrange something where the Christians can assemble on Sunday to commune.
Success And Failure
Have we been successful? Yes! There are presently three faithful Christians in the prison with several others close to being baptized. I should mention that baptism is somewhat difficult to accomplish. We are not allowed to go in and baptize. One of the chaplains usually will do it, but there is a lot of “red tape.” Also, some of the inmates do not want a chaplain to baptize them; so as you can see, there are some unfortunate hold-ups.
Have there been failures? Yes. Some, after months of study, have proven insincere and unworthy. Some have gotten out of prison and either gotten right back into trouble or joined a denomination. Others are still in prison and have become unfaithful. As you can see, the parable of the soils is true everywhere!
Answering The Critic
As with any “new” thing, there are going to be varied reactions. So far, most of the reaction has been good. Alan has raised most of his support for which all of us are very thankful. But not all has been positive. Let me take this time to answer some of the negative reactions we have received.
(1) “Why a prison, of all places?” The opportunity is there. There are souls who desire the gospel and that type of opportunity is what we are to be looking for (1 Cor. 16:8-9).
(2) “But, they are criminals!” That is exactly right! Remember, Jesus had some of the greatest successes with the “worst” sinners of Jewish society (see Mt. 9:9-13; cf. 21:28-32).
(3) “Prison work has proven unsuccessful.” I am not saying every prison will have opportunity. It is possible only a few will – but at Pendleton and other prisons there is opportunity and success. Brethren, let us not overlook opportunity just because it is not in a middle class neighborhood!
(4) “Prison work is not evangelism. ” Since when? What is the difference between teaching in a pulpit, on the street, at a kitchen table, and at a table inside prison walls? Teaching is teaching. Brethren, when will we learn that “pulpit preaching” is not the only, and surely not the most, successful means of evangelism?
(5) “Prison work does not constitute ‘full-time’ work. ” What is really meant is that it does not involve a pulpit, which we have already mentioned. Alan Jones presently prepares for and studies with nine men per week, every week. How many “full-time preachers” do you know who are involved in evangelism that much? He also sends correspondence courses, edits and publishes the Cambridge City, IN church bulletin, and has occasional preaching appointments. Full-time work? – Yes!
How Can You Help?
As we have mentioned, Alan Jones has devoted his full time to this work, therefore he needs support. He has all he and his family (wife and son) need through September. Beginning in October, they need $410.00 more per month. Can you help? Alan deserves support! His address is P. 0. Box 112, Pershing, IN 47370. Also if you would like to correspond with some of the inmates or send them bulletins, etc. (both of which they would appreciate) or like any more information, details, etc., you can contact either Alan or myself.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 21, pp. 652, 653
November 5, 1987