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What started in 2015 as live, in person classes at Middle River Regional Jail in Augusta County Virginia was drastically change by Covid.  Our last live class was near the end of February 2020.  The course being taught at that time was Firm Foundations.  In fact, that is the course that is still being taught as our premier course.  When the shutdown came, we simply asked permission from Middle River to have our live class students continue the course through correspondence.  They granted that request.  Knowing that men were on a waiting list to become part of the in-person class, we also asked if we could enroll those inmates as students.  They also granted that request.  Just at the time of the shutdown we were scheduled to have a lady from our church start teaching Firm Foundations on the female side of the jail.  So, we asked permission to enroll the ladies signed up to start that class as correspondence students as well.  Once again, Middle River granted our request.  We had 12 men in the live class, there was 50 men on the waiting list and 35 women on that list.  So, what the devil meant for evil, our Lord used for good.  All at once we had almost 100 students wanting to take Firm Foundations by correspondence.  


Over the years those numbers have changed significantly and we have added two more courses.  We are now operating what we call our "Correspondence School."  That was never intended - never even considered.  But that is what God has done to keep His Word, His Gospel, available to incarcerated people.  As students were moved from jail on into the prison system, they took our courses with them.  As fellow inmates saw what they were doing, many of them, especially those with a thirst for God and a desire for forgiveness - those who wanted to turn over a "New Leaf," began to inquire if they also could take the course.  That inmate to inmate referral system now has our courses being taken in almost every prison in Virginia, six in South Carolina and one in Ohio. As we near the end of 2023 more than 400 inmates have completed one or more of our courses and we are continually adding new students.


Nice Bibles are rare in jails and prisons.  Oh, there are quite a few worn out paper backs and hand me downs.  But nice Bibles are rare and modern translations are also rare.  We as a ministry, decided that our students needed a Bible that they could read and understand and one that they would also be proud to own and be seen reading.   We chose the New Living Translation Bibles with an imitation leather covering.  These Bibles are "slim line" large print Bibles that feel good and look good.  We send one to each student after they have started participating in the course by sending in their answer sheets and exams.  Those Bibles have also served to increase the number of students we have.  Many inmates will say to the one who has it, "How can I get a Bible like that?"  Our students tell them, "Write to New Leaf asking to enroll in their school.  As soon as you start participating, they will send you a Bible just like this one."


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 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.

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