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Charis Prison Ministries: Spreading the Good News

"When God called me into prison ministry nine years ago, I never thought the Bible verse in Matthew 25:40 would mean so much to me: "The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Prison ministry has become a simple way I can serve the Lord while making a difference in the lives of so many inmates. We now have a Christian prayer and share group inside a prison and we watch God change their hearts as we bring the unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ." Carol Anderson

"When people ask me why I do prison ministry, I tell them that it is a dark place, most don't want to go, but Jesus' light shines brighter there than in any ministry I have ever participated in. We are blessed to see such evidence of God changing lives—for real and forever. God needs us there too and it is amazing to serve Him there." Lori Kemper

Charis Board members Carol Anderson and Lori Kemper, along with Charis volunteer, Perry Anderson recently represented Charis Prison Ministry at a ministry fair at Hosanna Church in Lakeville. While there, they were blessed to be able to personally share their experience of volunteering in prisons to interested church members as well as encouraging them to become active in prison ministry. If your church or organization would like to hear more about Charis volunteer opportunities, or would like an experienced volunteer speak on the blessings and miracles that happen inside a prison, please let us know today. We have a gifted and talented Speaker's Bureau waiting for the opportunity to witness to God's transforming presence in our prisons. Click on the Questions link below to start the process of inspiring your audience to follow where God leads—even if it's to a prison.


The Benefits a Charis Volunteer Brings to the Prisons

Charis volunteers ……


Prison Ministry Sets People Free

by Bill Morgan, Staff Writer
Sherburne County Citizen
October 30, 2014

Last month, Terri and I had the privilege of serving on a ministry team that goes into prisons to minister and bring the gospel of the Lord to their lives. The ministry is called Charis of Minnesota and we served at Faribault prison the weekend of Oct. 3-5.

I served one time previously at Sandstone prison two years ago under Charis but my experience then was completely different than this years'.

At Sandstone, the table I was assigned to was comprised of insiders (that's what the prisoners are called) who already had accepted Christ as their savior so there was no real life conversion occurring with my group that weekend.

It was completely different at Faribault.

I was a table leader with another volunteer from Charis and our table consisted of seven insiders who had various levels of crimes and various levels of sentences among them. The weekend is composed of spiritual messages, music, projects, meals and sharing.

The goal is to get the insiders to realize they are not the lepers of society but that they are loved and accepted by God just as the rest of us are.

Jesus said in Matthew 25: 36..."I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me."

Most of the guys inside those walls are people just like you and me, it's just they made a poor decision in their lives that cost them their freedom. If you look at it, we are all one poor decision away from ending up behind bars ourselves.

One of the most powerful phases of the weekend program is called a chapel visit where the insiders get the opportunity to spill their guts — about their crimes, about their struggles, about their hopes and dreams and about their belief or lack of belief in a higher judge than the one who put them in cells made of brick and iron.

After hearing from our insiders at our table and listening to other insiders at the other tables (45-50 insiders for that weekend), the one subject most of the insiders focused on was finding a way to not only forgive the people who accused them and sent them to prison, but to forgive themselves for all the harm they did to get them where they were.

Most of the guys live with guilt, hopelessness, helplessness and deep emotional pain. They are not only locked up from society, they are also locked upon the boundary of their own hearts, minds and souls looking for freedom from the despair that torments them.

Our Charis team is instructed as we make our way inside the razor wire to do four things — listen, listen, love, love. And the system works.

Most of these guys rarely get the chance to open up their souls — even to strangers — and when they do, they become like an onion — peeling away years of abandonment, guilt, bitterness and unforgiveness until their hearts' eyes become open to what God's love is all about.

It's a shame most of them had to go to prison to find it, but many told me they were grateful they went to prison because if they hadn't they never would have found God outside the walls of imprisonment.

Isn't that ironic? These men had to go to prison to get free.

When ministering to prisoners with the Gospel, we follow a path marked out for us by Christ, who freely offered salvation to whomever would recognize their need.

And we acknowledge that throughout history, God has turned those with checkered pasts — Moses the murderer, Jacob the liar, Rahab the prostitute and Paul the persecutor — into heroes of the faith.

Even more, Jesus tells us that whatever we do for the "least of these," including prisoners, we do for Him.

Whenever one serves the incarcerated, one meets Jesus and Jesus meets them.


Pillar

Pillars of the Charis Community
– Bill Brice –

Pillar

Read about Bill Brice here


Great Minds Think Alike!

 

What do you get when you have three Charis teams holding their first team meetings all on the same day in the same place? As you look at the photographs from the day you will see that you get many things: a time for worship, a chance to build community, collaboration in training, and ultimately an opportunity to build on the strengths of the entire community. In other words you get synergy …. everyone working together for the common good.

 

 

And an additional benefit – lots of artistic talent (or not, depending on your view) on display. The time together also demonstrated that we are blessed by a community that doesn't hesitate to try something different – and to have fun in the process. Instead of the boring Day 2 training where the liaison recites a litany of do's and don'ts, a series of skits was performed all based on the premise, "What's wrong with this picture?" As it turns out, every action in the skit was 'wrong' with the message being: "If you see yourself doing this on a weekend, it's time to stop."

 

For all those who 'acted' in the skits, we thank you for being such good sports. And for those who watched these skits – we thank you for your uncritical attention. You too were good sports!

 


With Grateful Appreciation

Barb Dickie, Cliff Johnson and Maria ThoelkeAt the Charis of Minnesota June board meeting, Charis board members said farewell to three outgoing directors: Maria Thoelke (two terms) and Barb Dickie and Wyn Ray (one term each). Here, Maria and Barb display their rooster platters, the traditional gift for outgoing board members, presented by Board President Cliff Johnson.

The board is grateful for Barb's many contributions to Charis, particularly her leadership in helping the board make the transition to a consent-agenda format for board meetings. Both Maria and Barb worked tirelessly as board liaisons with the Shakopee prison, as well as on the supplies and manual committees. Wyn led the largest Charis weekend at MCF-Faribault (Charis #9), served as board liaison at Faribault, and served on the Spiritual Director committee.

Barb, Maria and Wyn: thank you for who you are, what you've done, and grace and peace to you as you continue on your journey with Jesus.


My Smile

From the Charis President: Cliff Johnson

Each of us has his or her own unique concept, or mental picture, of witnessing….of being a Christian witness.

I grew up thinking about witnessing as going out on a crowded street and telling somebody about Jesus. That mental picture has always been challenging for me. I’ve discovered – through trial and error, and monitoring my comfort level – that I’m not good at that kind of witnessing.

This morning (April 8) I read the Upper Room essay about Pahliwe, a South African woman who lives in a homeless shelter “who knows the Bible and is devoted to Jesus Christ.”

The UR’s Link2Life box said “To see a photo of Pahliwe, go to devotional.upperroom.org/blog

So, I went there, and up popped a photo of Pahliwe. Wow! What a smile! She is black-skinned, beautiful, and her smile says (to me….and I’m certain, to others) that she knows Jesus and loves everybody she comes in contact with.

Pahliwe’s smile caused me think about being a witness in a different light. Can people tell by my smile that I know Jesus and love everybody I come in contact with?

Can people tell by your smile that you know Jesus and love everybody you come in contact with?

That might be a good prayer to pray every morning: “Jesus, give me a smile today that tells people I love you and I love them.”


Whom God Calls, He Equips:
Looking Back on Charis #40 at MCF Shakopee

By Reo Uran, Lay Director

I had to settle in my head that “whom the Lord calls, He equips.”

He equipped our whole community. From the beginning, we were too involved with other things, and weekends, and initially we all had to pray about it, realizing the Lord was probably not calling us.

As we all “took it to the Lord,” we came to realize it wasn’t about us; the Lord had His eye on 36 precious weekenders whom He wanted nurtured into His kingdom.

Our team, over-committed as they were, now came on-board. But it took another two weeks to get new leadership for the team. We just kept trusting and calling, and eventually two wonderful assistants came forward, along with one seasoned veteran, and God had whom He had called.

We could never get the entire team together until the last weekend of training. Folks were that busy.

The Lord said, “Keep it simple. Get back to basics. Here’s the theme: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)

We discovered the basic truth of scripture: It’s the three legs of the stool. Discovery: “I am the way.” Christian spirituality: “I am the truth.” Action: “I am the life.”

“Apart from me, you can do nothing.” We needed the Christian community to carry out His plan.

Learning the new adjusted schedule and how tight we had to keep it was drilled into me as we started putting it down on paper…or should I say “on computer!” Oh my, me in cyberspace. Nobody told me that Macs don’t talk to PCs. I started sending out letters of invitation only to discover that no one was getting them! “What do you mean I have to PDF them? What’s a PDF?” The learning curve for this retired person is not what it used to be (or maybe never was). I needed community more than ever. I “told the Lord” that He’d gone too far initiating me into cyberspace. PC users were trying to help a Mac user using their vernacular. So I prayed a lot and, through much trial and error, got through most of the documents, schedules and emails. Then again, maybe some of you are still waiting to be invited on the team!

It was every part of the community coming and working together, contributing their gifts to bring about God’s incredible miracle of an almost situation-free weekend. We were blessed and so were the weekenders. They were fabulously eager to learn and to understand Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

Through all the incredible personal talks about what it takes to live the life in Christ, these girls were ready to make some powerful changes in their lives. Seven gave their lives to Christ and received him as their personal Savior. Others were ready to pick up and renew their faith in a living Christ.

The closing was one of the most in-depth confessions of faith and desire for a new life that we’ve ever witnessed. No silliness, just deep desire to know Christ more. We were dumbfounded. The Lord was indeed with all of us throughout this weekend.

One of our invited guests was Senator Gen Olson who legislated and got passed the IFI Prison Fellowship program in Minnesota. The insiders gave her a standing ovation as several of them were, or had been, in that program.

It was also Chaplain Berg’s last Charis retreat. Following a teary speech he received great praise through tears from the team, the Fourth Day community and the insiders. We have been blessed by his servant’s heart for this community. We praise God for His faithfulness to His people.


And a Good Time Was Had By All ……. The Charis Grand Reunion

By Maret Ryan

We came together on Sunday, April 22, at Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville to celebrate what is so special about the Charis ministry – the community of dedicated volunteers who live the Gospel message and have a heart for those in prison.

With fine food and fellowship in abundance, over 90 volunteers gathered to listen to testimonies from three exoffenders, one of whom even led the chapel service. It’s not often we see the harvest, but on this day it was fully present in the messages from Pastor David Hibbison, Violet Johnson and Jerry Hrbek. Their lives, since being released from incarceration, are a testimony to the redeeming power of Jesus!

More Grand Reunions will be held in the future, with the location moving each time to different geographical areas. Perhaps you, or your church, would be willing to host such an event? If so please contact Charis.

Photo from the April 2012 Grand Reunion   Photo from the April 2012 Grand Reunion

Photo from the April 2012 Grand Reunion   Photo from the April 2012 Grand Reunion

Photo from the April 2012 Grand Reunion   Photo from the April 2012 Grand Reunion

Photo from the April 2012 Grand Reunion   Photo from the April 2012 Grand Reunion

Photo from the April 2012 Grand Reunion   Photo from the April 2012 Grand Reunion


Waiting for the Harvest: Maret Ryan

If you had driven down to the prison at Waseca in October, past miles of rolling farm land, you would have seen acres and acres of crops being harvested. The hard work of preparing the fields long over, the seeds planted and grown, the crops now fully mature – all that remained was to bring in the harvest.

In Charis, we often talk about the Parable of the Sower and we remind ourselves that our job is just to sow the seeds; the fertilizing and harvesting will be done by others. As volunteers, we see inmates come and go and are often left to wonder, did we make a difference? Did we do good work here? Were we faithful to God with all our efforts? We have come to realize that Charis is a ministry that requires faithful waiting.

But once in a while we get a glimmer of God’s Grace through the words and actions of the inmates. The God of the Harvest shows us with breathtaking certainty that He is alive and present in the darkest of places. And all we have to do is be faithful in our waiting. The following comments from a former inmate show us that indeed the harvest is coming.

“One of the defining moments for me was when I went through the Charis retreat on June 1-4, 2006. The weekend showed me that God had always loved me and he forgives me. When I admitted my mistake and humbly asked for God’s forgiveness, He forgave me. God doesn’t worry about how “bad” I’ve been, he wants me to leave my wrongs before him and allow him to remove them. He is truly a loving and forgiving God. Understanding that God listened and forgave helped me to forgive myself and forgive others. How I came to this understanding was through many great volunteers that God had put in my life during that weekend. I was surrounded with understanding and comfort and inspired by their stories. It was comforting to know that no matter how dark and painful my circumstances had seemed, there were generous people to help me focus on the good that will come out of this, instead of the hopelessness I sometimes experience.” * Excerpted from the MCF Shakopee newsletter, The Reflector, written by former inmate Marla Thao.

This inmate took advantage of the educational opportunities available during her incarceration and left prison with a paralegal diploma, an office support certificate and ASIPS-Administration Support/Computer Software. She also worked on her emotional health, completing work in Victim Impact, Parenting with Purpose, Personal Empowerment and much, much more – a commitment to living her life as if it mattered! Good will come of this!

Oh indeed, the harvest is coming!


Wednesday Encouragement...Is it real?

Reflections from a Charis Spiritual Director, Pastor David Brown:

Grace and peace friends.

I was privileged to spend the past weekend at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault with 24 other "outsiders" participating with 47 "insiders" on a Charis weekend. Charis is the Greek word for grace. The intent of the weekend is to bring the grace of Jesus to the lives of the men inside the prison that they might experience for themselves the grace and love of Jesus.

For 12 hours (8 am to 8 pm) Friday/Saturday and Sunday the "outsiders" leave their world behind and enter the world of a correctional facility. We are only in one building for the whole time, but the guys bring their world to us. The razor wire is very visible all day long from the windows of our gathering area...as well as the officers, cameras, "count" (three times each day the men are counted to make sure everyone is where they need to be) and other reminders that we are in a place where freedoms we on the outside take for granted have been taken away from those on the inside.

Each day is structured around a series of talks and table discussions about Christian faith and living. The talks are given by both lay people and clergy (I wish there were other ways to identify us!). One of the highlights of the weekend is a special dinner that is served to the men (never happens in prison) and has placements and decorations in the room. This doesn't seem like a big deal to us, but to the guys it is very powerful. The best decoration is a bouquet of real flowers (they NEVER see these!) arranged in the shape of a cross.

On Saturday night I led a time of worship where we were giving and receiving forgiveness. We had brought the flowers in to our "community room" after the dinner. Part of the worship called for us to write down the people we needed to forgive, the people we needed to ask for forgiveness, and things we needed forgiveness for...and then lay them down at the foot of the cross.

As I was watching the men lay these lists down at the cross, I noticed one man stopped, looked closely at the flowers as if to ask "are they real?" and then leaned forward and took a big whiff. A look of wonder and satisfaction and joy came across his face as he walked back to his seat.

And the thought occurred to me..."is it real?" Is the forgiveness God offers real? How would I know?

As we were leaving that night, I was talking to the officer at the desk. I had spoken to him earlier in the day about his life and family and faith. He looked me right in the eye and said "you guys are really making a difference here." I said, "how do you know?" He replied..."I can see it in the guys. The way they walk (straighter), they way they talk, the way they smile. All of their body language says a change has happened!"

Toward the end of the retreat I invited those that hadn't been baptized in the Christian faith and had made a decision to follow Jesus to meet with me in another room. 12 of the 47 guys came. At least half had had no experience with Christianity. One guy said that he had been in the wicca religion for the last two years but he now knew a freedom in Jesus he never believed possible.

Sunday evening many guys gave testimonies as to how their hearts and minds had been changed during the weekend.

I know the forgiveness of God is real. I know that it is life changing. It has happened to me. And it continues to happen in places like MCF-Faribault and all across the world. People see it. People experience it. People know it.

If you have been asking that question, as many are, "is God real?"...I want to encourage you to keep asking...and keep looking for signs. Keep talking to people and ask them their stories. In thousands of places and in thousands of ways God's grace is being poured out in Jesus, forgiveness is offered and received and lives (and the world) are being changed for good.

God bless you richly in these days as you look for the real deal.

d.

Seeking to recover original church DNA: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer...all the believers were together and had everything in common...they gave to anyone who had need...they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people."