The sight of razor wire and violent jolt of air locks was chilling, even with the assurance that we’d soon be able to return to the “free world.” For the 3,300 men we were coming to visit, that is simply not the case. For them, this is life.
Thanks to our friends and partners, Hand of Hope, the world missions arm of Joyce Meyer Ministries, has been able to fulfill Jesus’ commission to visit those in prison (see Matthew 25). Over the past 18 years, our prison ministry team has visited more than 3 million inmates in over 3,550 prisons worldwide. And Mississippi was another great opportunity to share the love of Christ in a big way, with a simple gift.
Reaching Every Inmate — Our team spent that morning handing out hygiene gift bags in Area 2 General Population. As the men filed through, 100 at a time, our team shared quick encouragements like, “Just a little something to let you know we care.” “Watch out brother, that book will turn you every way but loose!” And the occasional, “You doing alright, man?” Young and old, man after man, came through the line and headed back to their bunk, with a small gift bag in hand.
It’s hard to understand what a $2 bag filled with one of Joyce’s books, hygiene items (a bottle of shampoo in Mississippi) and an encouraging note really means. Can something so simple make such a big difference? What I saw next answered this question loud and clear. About 15 inmates who work in the kitchen waited at the windows watching others receive their gifts. They were mouthy and pretty light hearted as they joked with fellow inmates. But after they received their bags and returned to the cafeteria, you could hear a pin drop.
An older gentleman wiped away tears as he read the note. A young man, whose face was filled with overwhelming loneliness, gripped the bag as he stared out the window. Another gentleman began reading the book immediately. The silence was overwhelming! God was clearly moving among them! Loving Them No Matter What — Kenneth Powell, director of chaplaincy at South Mississippi Correctional Institution shared with us, “You know, all of us have done wrong. And since we have them here, we can recognize that we have been just as wrong to some degree. We need to minister to them so they know they are going back to a society who cares.”
That’s why no matter what they did on the outside, no matter what they’ve done while incarcerated, no matter their race, age or religion, it is our mission to reach every single inmate with a gift that expresses the love of Christ.
After everyone in Area 2 came through, our team went door to door in the infirmary, praying with those who were sick and for the ones on suicide watch. Bags were distributed in the maximum-security units, to each holding cell for the newbies and the 36 cells in the lockdown unit. These guys are behind bars 23 hours a day with only 1 hour each in the “cage,” an outside workout area. Isolated around the clock, they shouted as our team distributed bags to them personally. In the midst of the chaos, each inmate received a gift, encouraging them to find hope in the Gospel message found in Joyce’s books.
A World of Possibilities — The ultimate goal we have through outreaches like this is to help hurting people experience the love of God personally and find real freedom through a relationship with Christ. Roy Lormis, prison ministry supervisor, said it best at a worship service Friday night: “When I look at you, I see possibilities. But you will never know who you really are until you know who God really is.”
Thank you so much to our friends and partners for helping us bring the love of Christ to 3,300 men, full of possibilities, in Southern Mississippi. Please pray with us that they will continue to discover their true identity in Christ and the amazing possibilities they can experience through Him!