A DIFFERENT KIND OF PRISON MINISTRY

by Shirley W. Madany


In missionary circles everyone knows the term tentmaker. It's the current lingo for someone who is doing two jobs at one time. And one of those occupations is evangelistic in character. Around the world there are many committed Christians who are endeavoring to bring the Gospel to the people nearest to them. I would like to tell you about a very unstructured, spontaneous example of this in a most unlikely spot. Christians facing long prison sentences, some of them having discovered Christ after their incarceration, are feeling the call to bring the Gospel to fellow inmates, and in some cases to a particular group, namely those who have espoused the religion of Islam.

I am looking in my "prison ministry" file and noticing how many letters we have received in the last few months. Most of these letters come to us thanks to a very small classified advertisement which we have run in Christianity Today for a number of years. They get hold of old issues and write hoping that we are still able to answer their request. I would like to share some of their comments:

"God has placed a compassionate love in my heart for these men who seem so filled with religious fervor and hate. I have taken the time to learn of their ways by reading the English translation of the Quran. Right now I really only know how to smile and show them the love of Christ. I refuse to argue scripture with them but I would love to be able to give a good, positive, scriptural witness from a perspective they would understand."

This man is off to a very good start. He has the right idea when he says that he does not want to argue. We are glad to send him our one small book, THE BIBLE AND ISLAM. Sometimes we hear from chaplains and I notice that earlier this year we filled a request for a large quantity of our book. This would have done away with the necessity of many men writing. The Ohio chaplain wrote:

I am specifically requesting l00 copies of your booklet entitled THE BIBLE AND ISLAM. Many of the inmates have requested this book as a witnessing tool. I received 200 of them from your ministry about 5 years ago, but have been out of them for some time. There is a great demand for them at this institution.

What amazes us, and shames us for being amazed, is the depth of spiritual understanding which some of the men reveal.

I like to thank you for sending me such important and interesting material. This is just what I needed to learn more about the Islamic world and its language. Besides, I always had and still have the desire of becoming a living witness of the gospel of my Lord Jesus, especially to the Muslims, 'cause I lived among them for a long time. I remember how they always tried to convince me that their doctrine was the only way of salvation. I also remember that something in the back of my mind, perhaps the spirit of God, used to tell me that they were wrong. Now I want to go to them and tell them about Jesus, his death and resurrection, but in a most sincere and proper way.

From another location one learns how roommates influence each other:

Praise God, isn't He wonderful? My roommate is Lebanese and you just sent him THE BIBLE AND ISLAM. He and I would like to thank you for it. He is teaching me Arabic and I am sending this order for Arabic books for a friend in Morocco who is coming to Jesus!

Another letter came to us because our book had been recommended to the writer by a friend incarcerated at another prison in the same state. Evidently they are moved about and thus good news gets spread and shared: Being in prison, I feel that this book will be an asset for my witness to the Muslim population.

One man, writing from California, describes in some detail his concern with what he overhears from the members of the Nation of Islam (Black Muslim group) who are very vocal where he is. They get plenty of free literature and cassette tapes, many of them featuring the thoughts of the notorious Louis Farrakhan. Material which feeds anger, and distorts thinking. One chaplain may have to sort out all the needs of quite a number of religious groups in his care, such as Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims, to name just a few. In some jails, however, the Muslims may have their own spiritual overseer and the groups are polarized with strict rules imposed. A prison chaplain's job is not an easy one.

There has been a spate of letters recently and it is our pleasure to be able to supply these requests freely, both for the men and for the chaplains. It has been gratifying to see the increased attention being given to prisoners and to their families in the last few years and we are becoming aware that there are many conversions taking place in our jails. The following letter tells of someone who has become a Christian:

I read your book on how to witness to a Muslim and really enjoyed it. I myself used to be a Muslim, but now know that Jesus Christ is Lord. I thank God that He has allowed me to see the revelation of Jesus. Although it took coming to prison and a thirty five year sentence to bring me to the end of myself, I am more than grateful. If it is possible, would you please send more information about ministering to Muslims. Here there are so many black professing Muslims who mainly seem to just want to have something to identify with. I would be very grateful if you could help me in this matter. I love you. Sincerely

Probably the most moving letter is one that came from someone on death row who has evidently made his own peace with God. He talks about the scarcity of Christians and the rising number of Muslims he sees around him and he analyses it as a lot of men are bitter, angry at God, angry at 'the system', so instead of facing their problems and admitting their own shortcomings, needs, failures and sins, they turn away from the true God and look for other things. And according to this man they find in Islam something which will allow them to hold onto their anger and bitterness.

He bemoans the fact that they are so aggressive in spreading their faith and talking about it. They are much more willing to do so than the Christians around him. He wonders if it is the same in the "outside world." He talks about the Nation of Islam as well and wants more information so that he can understand these people. He expresses himself beautifully:

I am concerned because all of us here face death. It is hard sometimes, but I am reminded that Christ died for even these bitter and angry souls. I feel I must try to reach these people, and I need some help. I hope to hear from you. Please pray for me and pray for the men here. Thank you and God bless you.

Arabic-speaking immigrants also end up in jail and one of them ordered our daily devotions book in Arabic and then decided to mail it to Lebanon to his family. He wrote to ask if we could send another one to a relative in California.

The Muslim world is all around us these days, even in our correctional institutions. It is good to be able to subsidize something which the Lord has been using for many years, to help people understand and deal with situations which at first they find baffling. Most books on "how to" with regard to missions to Muslims are designed primarily for Christians who have the freedom to attend church, visit their neighbors, travel freely to other countries and attach themselves to various organizations. These tentmakers in our prisons are a lonely, injured group of men who don't even recognize that there is something very special about the love which God has now placed in their hearts. They are men who under the guidance and leadership of believing chaplains and through personal Bible study, are receiving the call from the Lord and making the effort to bring the Gospel to their "neighbor" in prison. Every correctional institution has its rules and regulations and one has to remember that these men are not free to receive just any mail. It must all be inspected and meet the requirements. In many cases the matter of witnessing must be left in the hands of the chaplain.


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