The cover of this month’s
issue is a picture drawn by Robert Avila, one of the students in our
correspondence course. Robert is incarcerated at Lubbock, Texas, and
has studied with us for many years. He has been on dialysis all that
time, but maintains a positive spirit as well as possessing great
artistic ability. When I moved to South Bend, Indiana, in 1959 and
tried to find something I could do in the local congregation, there
were two areas available. One was working with teenagers in the area
and in the church, and the other was a small jail ministry. Since I
was employed as a teacher and had experience in the military with
prisons and military prison training programs, I took on both
ministries. Now I find myself 52 years later still involved in both.
My work with high school and college-age students and my experiences
with prisoners have convinced me that a major remedy for the
problems of young people and people in prison is to help them find a
solid faith in God — help which is found in the teachings of Christ.
The action of God’s Spirit can give people struggling with direction
in life a solid start on getting and keeping their lives in order.
Atheists would like to convince us that
there is no correlation between belief in God and moral conduct.
Frequently we will hear people give statistics suggesting that most
prisoners have a church preference in their records. The problem
with such suggestions is first of all that “atheist” is not a choice
in most prison entry forms. Even if it is, most prisoners will not
select it because many denominations have programs in prisons that
give prisoners benefits if they belong. Prisoners have also found
that being “religious” can bring them advantages when dealing with
guards, wardens, parole boards, and halfway houses. The fact is that
one-on-one studies with prisoners nearly always indicate that their
rejection of God and church is associated with the behavior that
landed them in prison.
When the Does God Exist? ministry began
in 1968 with programs in colleges, universities, and town meetings,
we were frequently invited to speak in local jails and state prisons
where jail ministries were in operation. Since we had free postpaid
correspondence courses in both apologetics and basic Bible studies,
we made these courses available to inmates. We now have some 15,000
men and women who have taken or are currently taking our courses
while in prison. We have 26 lessons in apologetics (in two courses)
as well as lessons in basic Bible studies.
Our greatest challenge is
following up with students who want personal contact, baptism,
communion, re-entry help, or help with their families. We have
prison students in 50 states and many foreign countries, and prisons
are not popular places for people to go to see them. The usual
concern is that prisoners are not really sincere, but just want to
impress prison officials by pretending they have changed their ways.
There is no question that sometimes (perhaps a majority of the time)
this is true. The question is, what is the value of one person who
genuinely makes a change of heart and becomes a new person in the
sense of Romans 6:4? What will be the influence of such a person on
the prison? How many repeat offenders will this person stop, and
what will be the affect of that? When that person gets out, how many
young people will he or she redirect to avoid prison?
A massive number of young people in prison got into trouble because
they were never given logical, consistent, informed, biblical
answers to good questions. When a young person is told, “because I
said so” or gets a shrug, he will assume that there is no answer. In
our apologetics courses the first lessons deal with things like:
When these questions are not logically and rationally answered and a
person has no reason to accept any guide or moral limitation in
life, the result is going to be disastrous.
- How do we know that God exists?
- How do we know which God is the true God?
- How do we know the Bible is true?
- Why do we exist?
- Why does God allow suffering?
- Why am I special?
- How do I know I will live when this life is over?
- Why should I not immerse myself in sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.?
Too many Bible correspondence courses and class
studies ignore these vital questions and ask students to make
simple, mindless, multiple choice answers out of a lesson book that
are simply copied and require no understanding. Those students get a
certificate to add to their parole board dossier — but the questions
that put them into destructive behavior in the first place remain
This article is a call to prison work and workers to look at what is
being done in prisons and what the real needs are. People whose
lives are in chaos need to start with basics and learn to think
through what is needed to guide their lives. The Does God Exist? program offers
two courses free to all prisoners. The basic course is written at an
upper elementary grade level and is where most prisoners should
start. Academically strong students should take the college level
course and may wish to participate in our scholarship program.
We stand ready to assist all attempts to reach those in our society
who are disenfranchised and desperately in need of a solid direction
for their lives.
--John N. Clayton
Cover picture and smaller
pictures drawn by Robert Avila. Course pictures by Roland
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