About two years ago my wife was at a training session for The Prisoner’s Journey, a Prison Fellowship in-prison, 8-session program that tells the good news of Jesus to prisoners.
She came home and told me she felt strongly that God had told her He wanted me to go into prisons to run this course.
I was reluctant. Although I had been a professional trainer in a TAFE setting, I thought I did not have the ability to do this type of ministry. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and he reminded me, “It’s not about your ability, it’s about your availability.”
I thought of Moses, when he was asked by God to go to Pharaoh to set the Israelites free. I was reminded of how reluctant Moses was, and I was able to relate to all the excuses he came up with as to why God shouldn’t send him.
I filled in the application forms and, sometime later, with trepidation, I went into a prison as a program facilitator. I felt a pulling of my heartstrings as I saw the men in the exercise yard. Some were walking in circles, some were working out, some played basketball and many just looked bored. I was reminded of Jesus’ words in the Scriptures – “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) We know a Shepherd who lay down His life for his sheep (John 10:11)!
That first The Prisoner’s Journey I ran with another facilitator had none of the ingredients needed to have a successful training environment. Regimented prison procedures coupled with constant interruptions made it difficult to judge the inmates’ level of engagement, and their body language was giving nothing away. However, what they had to say at the end of the sessions was very powerful and encouraging, and I realised that God was indeed getting through to them. They were thoroughly interested in finding out about Jesus through the Gospel of Mark.
It was confirmation for me that it was not us but the Holy Spirit who was running the course.
This year I have been blessed to have had the availability to have been part of The Prisoner’s Journey in a few different prisons. I have seen many prisoners who have been impacted by the gospel, some for the first time. I have had the privilege of hearing the inmates share how God is moving in their lives and how they are coming to really know Him for the first time.
God had to overcome all my objections by reminding me of what He said to Moses: “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12), however now I’m hooked and I will visit for as long as He wants me going into prisons. It’s a wonderful ministry and I am very blessed and privileged to be a part of it.
I thank God that He is in charge and not me.
– Tim Oliver, Prison Fellowship volunteer