'I was wondering if there's any chance of having some counseling or finding some sort of help?' the newspaper reported the young man asking the judge. After two weeks of sensing God's thumb in my back I finally wrote and asked if the young man would allow me to visit him at our county jail. Bryce's* affirmative reply began a relationship that has grown over the last seven years.
What I assumed was God's leading to visit one young man quickly multiplied. Inmates had friends also wanting a pastoral visit. I ask each new contact to share their spiritual journey. Most have no religious background. When God opens the way, I share the gospel'and many have accepted Jesus as Savior. 'Nobody ever told me my life could be different!' exclaimed Darryl after he asked God to forgive him of a life of violence.
My heart literally aches for these young men. Most of them are from broken homes and have dropped out of school, while a few are university students. A common thread has been their involvement with alcohol, or drug abuse or drug sales. Several have nowhere to call home, but 'couch surf,' staying with friends as long as they are welcome.
Once men accept the Lord they complete the Basic Bible Studies for New and Growing Christians. Following that, they start on Continuing Lay Training (CLT) Lay Ministry studies, giving them an overview of the Old and New Testaments and biblical concepts. John, currently in a Pennsylvania penitentiary, includes Christian poems he has written with the completed studies he returns to me.
I visit the incarcerated men in our county detention facility at least weekly. If they are moved to one of the state's prisons for men, I visit them there as often as possible.
Last summer our church's worship team made the 217 mile trip to Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby, Montana, to hold a service. Admittedly some were hesitant, but what a tremendous time worshiping with the 70 men who attended. Religious activities staff constantly express their gratitude for anyone coming to visit and minister to the men.
It was a privilege to baptize Bryce and receive him and Kurt into church membership, though they will remain incarcerated for several years. Our church board voted to accept as associate members any men who are ready and determine active membership once they are released. The congregation has been accepting and supportive of the men once they begin attending our church. The men participate in classes and small groups and play on sports teams - a couple have become part of our worship team.
When people quiz me about me involvement in prison ministry, I tell them I have two 'E' words to describe it. It is exhausting, for the needs are great and many. But it is also exhilarating. The men are so appreciative of any expression of love. Early in my involvement I questioned God's wisdom, putting me in this role. His reassurance was simply, 'You know Me—that's enough.'
* Names have been changed.
Larry D. Spicer is associate pastor at Missoula Church of the Nazarene in Montana and also serves as Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries International chair for the Rocky Mountain District.
Holiness Today, September/October 2011
Please note: This article was originally published in 2011. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed. Larry Spicer reported in mid-2013 that he continues to work with about 30 inmates, two of whom are in federal penitentiaries. Now, five men, whom he met in prison, are a part of their congregation. One of them is leading a Narcotics Anonymous group at the church. A local business owner in the church has employed three of the former inmates. The congregation continues to be accepting of the men and supportive of the ministry.