THE PHYSICIAN’S HELPERS
Being arrested, hand-cuffed and placed behind bars provides the very best opportunity for a person to view themselves for who they really are. The façade is gone. No point in lying to yourself anymore. Trying to hide the truth from the law, from friends, family and everyone else is an ongoing activity. But being alone with one’s guilt and shame can be, and should be, heart breaking. A self broken heart is probably the most intense pain a human being can experience. There is no one to blame. It’s a self inflicted wound. There is only one Physician who can heal this wound. The Physician begins by sending in a helper to tell the broken hearted, “You know, you haven’t been too bad to be forgiven.”
THE TURNING POINT
“Turning point” is a clear concise definition of the word crisis. When the arrest comes, so comes the crisis. The status quo will no longer work. The normal flow of life has stopped. The pieces of life have all popped out. The frantic rush is to put them back in place. But it doesn’t work. All control is lost. The crisis is firmly in place. This life has reached a turning point.
Which way will it turn?
That’s the job of New Leaf Inmate Ministries.
New Leaf Inmate Ministries is what has grown out of the Turning Point classes taught weekly at Virginia’s Middle River Regional Jail. Using the course, Firm Foundations, (described on the next page), as curriculum, lives at their turning point are being forever changed. Inmates are flocking to this class. Weekly attendance is always near or at 100%. The waiting list of inmates wanting to get into the class is so long that MRRJ, (the jail), is trying to find extra class times and space so that Mr. Webb, and friends that make up New Leaf Inmate Ministries, can teach the class to more inmates.
Inmates are almost constantly being moved. Some move from jail on into prison and some go home, either because they have reached the end of their jail sentence or they are released by the court system. In any case, one moves out of the weekly class and someone on the waiting list is allowed to take their place.
But the ones leaving the class aren’t just left hanging in the middle of the course. They continue taking the course by correspondence. As a result we not only have the men we minister to in jail, we also have men scattered all over the state taking the course by correspondence. Other inmates, looking over the shoulder of the one taking the course, often decide they want to take the course and are encouraged to write to New Leaf. The course is provided free of charge to anyone who wants to take it.
Compiled, written and arranged by Clint Webb in 1991, under the direction and supervision of Dr. Sherry Dennis, Director of Christian Education, West Lauderdale Baptist Church, Fort Lauderdale Florida.
This is the course used in the turning point classes. This is the course that has led many inmates to accept Jesus as Savior. This is the course that has an inmate weekly attendance rate of almost 100%. This course teaches how to turn lives over to Jesus and walk with him, not just behind bars, but when back on the streets as well. This is the course that is producing less recidivism than any it has been compared to.
Why? The answer is simple. A life dedicated to following Jesus, a life consecrated to God, has a far better chance of not returning to jail or prison than any other.
With an emphasis on getting well acquainted with God and developing a close and personal relationship with Him, this course reveals biblical solutions for human problems such as depression, worry and anxiety. Feelings of rejection, inadequacy, worthlessness and more are dealt with from a Biblical perspective.
A better understanding of God opens the door to a better understanding of human nature.
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RE-ENTRY AND RECIDIVISM
Why is it that so many people leave incarceration only to come back again. Someone has well said, “They find Jesus at the door on the way in and leave Him at the door on the way out.” It really isn’t quite that simple but recidivism is a horrible reality in today’s world. As we at New Leaf Inmate Ministries work with the inmate population we realize that leading inmates to the Lord – to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and an acceptance of God’s forgiveness, as vitally important as that is, is only part of the job. Beyond that lies the reason we teach the course, Firm Foundations. Consecration is the key word. If a life is to really be saved from the revolving door, the cycle of crime and incarceration and crime again, that life must be consecrated to God. The world is busy saying to God, “Don’t tell me what to do.” The turning point is when a person turns from rebellion toward God to a life dedicated to saying to God, “Show me the way, Lord. Lead me and guide me in thy statutes.” Therein lies the primary job and primary focus of New Leaf Inmate Ministries. To fulfill that primary purpose and job we use the Firm Foundations Course and our own lives as examples of living a “new life in Christ.
Now comes the rest of the job. We’ve presented the Gospel, led them to the Lord and given them a Firm Foundation to build their life on. Then comes re-entry. We, those of us who minister to incarcerated people, no matter what the name of our organization or ministry is, we find that there is still work to do. Unfortunately this is where many well intended ministries have failed. And many of them don’t know they have failed. They’ve led a person to the Lord and taught him the basics and figure they’ve done a good job. And in many respects they have. But what’s life going to be like for that person when he or she walks through those doors back to the outside?
At New Leaf we’re beginning to work with inmate families. We want to make sure they know the Lord. We’re launching a program to start Bible studies for spouses and children and parents and all members of an inmate’s family. Bible studies in their home or at some central location. Where isn’t nearly as important as the doing. In order to increase the chances that an inmate will stay free, he or she needs to come home to a family that’s walking the same walk. We need to quickly get them into a church that will accept them, love them and include them as part of that church’s family. There’s more. We’re also working with other Re-entry programs dedicated to helping find jobs and low income housing and on the job training. Yes, some will leave Jesus at the door on the way out. But God’s calling us to work toward preventing that. And we will.
We also teach inmates that we’re not nearly as concerned about their addictions to drugs or alcohol as we are about their addiction to their old lifestyle. Most of them are behind bars long enough to get pretty well dried out from any chemical dependence. But unless we do all we can to provide a loving, accepting, secure place for them to return to – they’ll go straight back to that old lifestyle.