“I’ve done it 21 years now. In the old days when I started, there were just two or three of us who went in every Sunday,” says long-term prison visitor, Paul. Paul and his team visit the local remand centre for a few hours every Sunday, coordinating the chapel service and visiting the vast array of inmates awaiting sentence and placement.
Paul and his wife were isolated when they first moved to Queensland. They had both moved to Australia from other countries in the 1990s and knew homesickness firsthand. They decided to redeem their experience of isolation and sought other people who were separated from family at Christmas. A friend suggested they try prison! 21 years later, Paul is still visiting prison regularly. “It’s been a real blessing,” he says.
“In the old days, we used to go into the cell area and sit on the concrete floor and share with inmates through the grill. Now our team generally speaks in an interview room, one-on-one. Almost 50% of the prisoners here ask for us to visit them!”
In one of these visits, Paul met Janene*. Janene shared how the influence of drugs came from her own family; she picked up the habit from her father. He later committed suicide, leaving Janene with compounding trauma. Janene longed to be set free from drugs and that she would not hurt her children. Paul shared with her how Jesus had paid the price to set her free. Given the transient nature of remand, Janene was transferred and Paul lost contact with her for twelve months. When they finally crossed paths again, Janene was delighted to report that she had gone through rehab and reconnected with her children. Her life was coming together.
Even though Paul is unable to walk an inmate’s full journey when they are transferred from remand, he knows that faithfulness to God’s call is still worthwhile.
“I often have people in the shopping mall come up to me and remember when I saw them in prison,” he recalls. “They tell me how they are trying to set their life straight, and that they have been out of prison for X number of years.”
Moments like this encourage Paul to continue. “Some days you just don’t wanna go, but you pray before you go in and leave saying, ‘Wow, God did the most amazing things.’ He turns it all around. You have an encounter with a person, you’re in tears with them, and have an opportunity to share with them. You’ve just gotta go with the moment. The things of God are amazing. The mercy of God can cover the most horrifying of sins. We can’t understand the depth and breadth of what He can do. That’s part of the journey, I guess.”
Having volunteered for so many years, Paul is encouraged to see his church engage with prisoner care, “to see younger people step into their journey with the Lord.” His church have welcomed many ex-inmates to their community.
He also values the people who give towards prison ministry. “You’ve gotta have a strong love for the Lord Jesus Christ. There are some big problems in our cities and God can make a big difference in people’s lives. It’s not for the lone wolf – you are part of a bigger team.”