Jesus said, in Matthew 25:36 (NIV):
I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
It’s a difficult time for most of us right now, as we are in the fourth week of a country-wide – if not worldwide – lock-down because of the Coronavirus crisis. We are imprisoned indoors for most of the day, and for those of us without gardens, it’s more difficult than most who do have gardens. But spare a thought for those who are imprisoned – literally – in prison today.
One of the mantras of those who work in prisons, whether as paid workers or volunteers who go in to help with various aspects of prison life, such as chaplaincy or education, is “nothing in, nothing out.” It’s a regulation that dictates that you can neither take anything in to the prison with you, or bring anything out of the prison with you. It’s a matter of prison security, to prevent any illegal or unaccepted goods being brought in for a prisoner or any unauthorised messages or goods being passed out on behalf of a prisoner.
However, the current Coronavirus lockdown has brought a new meaning to “nothing in, nothing out” as no visitors are currently allowed in, and no volunteers are allowed in either. This is putting the whole system under immense strain. The stresses involved in prison community – both for those maintaining the community, and those who are part of the community, the prisoners – is escalated beyond what they normally experience.
Imagine your only outlet for all your pent up emotions is the gym, but it’s cancelled due to shortages of staff; imagine that your only physical contact with another human being who cares for you is during your one-hour visit a week, but visits are cancelled; imagine your only opportunity to get out of the small cell that you are confined in for 23 hours a day is to visit the library or the chapel on Sunday, but they’re cancelled due to limitations on staffing and absent volunteers. Now it doesn’t seem quite so bad that you can “only” go out shopping, for exercise once a day, or for medical reasons or for work. At least you can go out of your front door and walk down to the local shop whenever you need to.
As Christians, we are called to visit those in prisons, and Prison Fellowship is the largest Christian UK organisation that does just that. Not only that, but it organises and runs effective restorative programmes in prisons, with a country-wide network of volunteers. But they started with prayer.
It all started with prayer
When Prison Fellowship began in the UK, they weren’t allowed to enter prisons – there simply wasn’t any provision for volunteers to enter prisons to come alongside and help prisoners. So the founder members got together to pray. They simply had this idea that if you built a team of people to get together to pray for a prison, then God would hear, and He would do something. Their vision was to have a prayer group for every single prison in the UK – something they are now close to achieving.
And God did hear their prayer – and He did do something. He opened the doors!
Since those beginnings, Prison Fellowship volunteers have been going into prisons, coming alongside prisoners with the belief:
that no one is beyond hope, and that every life can be transformed.”
They now have a network of around 2,500 volunteers all over the country, some of which join in prayer on a regular basis, and some who go into the prison to help in various ways or to run the restorative justice programme, Sycamore Tree.
However, access to prisons is once again restricted – and it’s back to basics – prayer. Prison Fellowship prayer groups meet all over the country, and although they cannot meet in person due to the restrictions right now, they can meet ‘virtually.’ In fact, today I had the privilege of joining 212 others on a ‘Zoom’ meeting to pray about those in prison – whether prisoner or staff – and it was amazing! To join over 200 people on a virtual meeting was amazing; the fact that we were all there to pray – and to pray for those in prison – was also amazing.
And as we pray, we ask that God – once again – hears our prayers, and that once again He opens the doors.
May we pray …
Heavenly Father, as we pray for those in prison – those prisoners there, and those working there; we ask once again that you hear our prayers. We ask that in our enforced absence, that You break in. We ask that you bring healing, restoration and salvation to those incarcerated there; and we ask that you bring Your peace. In the name of your precious Son, Jesus. Amen.”