Gwydyr Rd, Crieff, UK, PH7 4BS

Dear Friends,
Last week I went to prison. And before you wonder about the crimes I may have committed, I had better let you know that our whole class made a visit during a course I was taking at Andrews University.  It wasn’t my first time behind bars. As a local pastor I’ve visited various prisoners who were taking Bible correspondence courses.  They often asked to be visited by a clergyman, especially just before being released!
There were no outside windows in this Michigan jail.  The interior walls were magnolia-painted concrete.  The windows onto the corridors were plate glass.  The inmates were dressed in blue/grey jumpsuits and were generally sitting around in small groups, playing cards or sleeping.  The prison was clean and tidy, but there was no privacy, at least not in the male section we visited.   Some of the more difficult prisoners were kept in single cells, but most were housed in dormitories of 8 to 12 men. Those inmates who are willing to help with the chores are called ‘trustees’ and in return for their work are granted 5 days per month reduction in their sentence.  They are dressed in orange jump suits to distinguish them from the rest of the inmates.
I found the whole experience quite sobering.  These people were serving time for crimes they had committed against society.  They could go to education classes if they wanted, but otherwise they could not do anything that seemed significant.  I was tempted to see them as prisoners in uniform, but found my heart going out to them as fellow children of God who had, like each one of us, done something wrong.  But in their cases they had chosen to do something that warranted imprisonment.  We were told that these offenders were petty criminals, whose sentences were all less than twelve months.  This was a well-run jail, but after visiting for only 30 minutes we were all wondering how soon we could get out!  The brightness of the sky and the sense of freedom struck us as our class emerged into the summer sunlight.
What a gift it is to be free!  We don’t live in prison, and, except for our physical limitations, we are relatively unrestricted. We live in a country where we are free to practice our faith in an open democracy.
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells us that a true sign of being prepared for the judgement is that we not only visit and care for the sick, but we also minister to those in prison.  How often do we go out of our way to visit convicted prisoners or those in metaphorical prisons?  So many people are trapped in what can feel like a prison of poverty, addiction or loneliness, unable to get out.  Jesus’ commission in Matt 4:18 was to proclaim release for prisoners.  How can we continue His ministry in these last days?  Should we be joining the many Christians who are campaigning with organisations like Amnesty International to release prisoners of conscience?   Are we befriending and witnessing to those in spiritual prisons, bound by forces we cannot see?  Our voices and actions will make a difference.  Who do you know who needs to experience God’s grace?  How can you help them to be released from their captivity and enter the bright sunlight of God’s eternal presence?
Pastor Bernie Holford