When my co-workers learned that I visit prisons to introduce Jesus and teach His Way, they wondered why. “Is it possible to live according to the Bible in prison?” one asked. I wondered if the questioner had read his own Bible. Was he not familiar with faith practiced in the face of adversity? Had he even read of Paul’s continued ministry in captivity? (Acts 16:16-40)
There are certainly bible-carrying inmates who are harassed, ridiculed, and even targeted for their faith practice. Someone may think choosing to live according to the Bible makes one weak and unlikely to defend himself if attacked. Is that much different than our own lives? I have been mocked for carrying a Bible in the open, slapped and called names by an antagonist trying to elicit a response other than “the other cheek.”
Granted, not all prisons are created equal. Lower-security facilities may offer more flexibility and safety for faith-practicing prisoners. But someone who has accepted Christ often doesn’t care about that. They trust Christ to protect them and guide them. If they suffer an insult, they accept it as part of their faith journey. They read about the apostles and other martyrs and realize they are not in such a bad position.
When I am asked if it is possible to live according to the Bible in prison, I tell the story about a prisoner in one of the harshest prison systems in the world, which is Guatemala. A church I visit there is headed by a former prison inmate. He was sentenced to life for a double murder. He quickly developed a “nothing to lose” attitude and ran with the worst of the prison’s enforcers and abusers.
There was a fellow inmate who spent his days preaching the Bible from a box in the courtyard. The pastor got tired of hearing the other man yelling out Bible verses. He set out one day to kill the man as he preached. As he approached, the pastor made eye contact with the preaching inmate. He says he was immediately overcome with grief and love at the same time. He fell to his knees, crying. Before he realized what happened, he had a Bible in his hand.
Long story short, he wound up pastoring a church in that prison. He preached every day, visited sick inmates, counseled family members, and is credited with bringing thousands into the fold. He even had former-prisoners return to attend his weekly services.
Years later, he was released by a converted warden who told the government he was reformed and should be free. Last year, the pastor helped open the sixth City of Refuge Church in Guatemala. Each one is headed by a pastor who used to be a Guatemalan prison inmate.
That is why free Bible study and ministry programs for inmates are so important. Schools like the International Christian College and Seminary (ICCS) (http://www.iccscampus.org/) help inmates not only find God but solidify their relationship and service to the Lord.
Is it possible to live according to the Bible in prison? Yes, of course, it is. It might be difficult at times, but not much more difficult than it is for any of us. Should we encourage and support Christianity in prisons? Yes! Absolutely, positively… yes.