It is hard to read between those words as I listen to Sandra’s* soft voice over the phone. I have never met her, but this is the context of Sandra’s initial contact with Prison Fellowship Australia…and possibly partly the motivation from which she is seeking to reach out to prisoners. And so with the words “I just always wanted to work for the Lord,” begins the journey of a volunteer, called to serve and support prisoners through the Prison Fellowship Australia ministry.
“They are victims themselves – victims of the community, victims in their family,” another prospective volunteer, Diana*, says.Her impassioned words over the phone – conveyed in a beautiful accent which I cannot at the time pinpoint, but which conjure up a picture of some faraway exotic place. Words of compassion and deep sadness, as she too calls to enquire about volunteering. Her heartfelt words cloak but also reveal a personal awareness of how easily we can all get caught up in, and are affected by, the brokenness around us in life.
It becomes apparent during the conversation that Diana is well educated and a successful professional. What is also apparent is there is a deep conviction for Diana to reach out from the comfort of her reality, to those who are marginalized and cut off; to reach out to those paying the consequences of their decisions; to reach out with a message not of condemnation but of hope and possibility.
The message of the grace and hope in Christ – for all.
These initial phone conversations with Diana and Sandra encapsulate the heart of a Prison Fellowship Australia volunteer.
It is a calling to which volunteers are compelled to respond, and which is an extension of the mystery of how Prison Fellowship itself originated in 1976, through the call of Chuck Colson. It is the divine evidence of God at work beyond our limitations, weaknesses and our intimidations.
A “working out” which is also beyond our greatest expectations.
I am compelled in light of this, to seek the underlying reason why in recent weeks, in the midst of so much that is uncertain, the number of people reaching out to volunteer, has increased so dramatically? People, many of whom have not in any way been part of Prison Fellowship Australia previously, are exploring the avenues available to make a difference.
Is there, in the midst of an uncertain world, currently being rocked and shaken by Covid-19, the possibility that people are searching for that which is unshakeable? That people are seeking to invest in and share that which is lasting and eternal hope?
Can it be that these current circumstances have motivated people to actively go deeper – to obey Christ’s call to feed the hungry; to give something to drink to those who are thirsty; to reach out to strangers; to clothe those in need; to look after the sick and…. to visit prisoners?
Of course, there is no way to effectively measure any correlation… After all, can the Divine ever be measured? But things which have roots in the eternal must grow in the midst of all that can be uprooted and changed so quickly.
And this starts with the evidence of seeds planted firmly in the hearts of Prison Fellowship Australia volunteers- like Diana and Sandra.