For many, prison can be depersonalising and degrading. It can play havoc with the mind and, as we discovered while presenting the course, The Prisoner’s Journey, to about 20 women at a Sydney Correctional Centre, many prisoners have already come to the conclusion that God could not be interested in them. Some believe that they have committed the ultimate sin against God and are beyond forgiveness and undeserving of God’s kindness. But, the light of the Gospel and the grace of God, coupled with the work of God’s Holy Spirit, can challenge that thinking and inspire hope and an awareness of the possibility of forgiveness and a new direction in life.
The Prisoner’s Journey has been written with exactly that goal in mind – to inspire in broken people a new hope for their future based entirely on the Gospel of Jesus. In 8 sessions, participants hear via DVD the compelling real-life testimonies of ex-criminals whose lives have been turned inside out by the good news of Jesus. These testimonies are, in many ways, ‘the clincher’ for the participants. They give powerful credibility to the transforming power of the message that has turned the lives of hardened offenders a full 180 degrees.
Produced by Prison Fellowship International, The Prisoner’s Journey has been well received in prisons around the world. It takes participants on journey that many of them knew nothing about until voluntarily signing up to the course. Many come to prison with anti-religious baggage based on misinformation about God and Jesus. Some have had negative experiences of Christians and church that have influenced their perceptions. The Prisoner’s Journey provides for those attitudes to be declared and for inmates to indicate where they stand in relation to the Gospel.
Through the story-telling of Mark, misconceptions and errors of fact are challenged as participants get to know the real Jesus of the Bible: Who is he? Why did he come? So what?
It is quite moving to engage with prisoners as they come to terms with the simplicity and unconditionality of the supreme sacrifice of Jesus to rescue us all from the punishment our sins deserve. But the wrestling doesn’t end there! The resurrection that seals the effectiveness of Jesus’ death ushers in the beautiful theme of ‘grace’ – the undeserved kindness of God even when we are in full rebellion.
Watching the participants grasping the reality of this wonderful truth and seeing the ‘aha moment’ as they sense that this is the key to their future is a profound experience. One participant expressed in the middle of the lesson on ‘grace’: ‘I’m afraid I’ll never be good enough for God because I turned my back on him.’ After one of the later lessons, she warmly and tearfully thanked us for the newfound assurance that she had discovered and the realisation that she could be OK with God again.
This is a very well-designed course that, with the Holy Spirit’s prompting and enabling, has the potential to seriously change the lives of many inmates. We would encourage Prison Fellowship supporters to consider volunteering to be The Prisoner’s Journey instructors or helpers. Above all, please pray as this course is delivered in more and more prisons around Australia.