“We have learned more from them than they have from us”
20 years volunteering with Prison Fellowship
Leon* was a “real bushy fellow who was completely illiterate,” when Christine and Bill first met him. He came along, somewhat reluctantly, to one of the programs Chris and Bill ran in Queensland through Prison Fellowship. Over time, some of the other people who attended the course started teaching Leon to read, with Chris and Bill offering guidance and encouragement along the way. “He would get so excited [about reading],” Chris explains, so he completed literacy courses and later, Leon became a Christian! He has recently been released from prison and has a great future ahead of him.
Another inmate, James*, was the main person who taught Leon to read, and also discipled him through prayer and Bible studies. James was a Christian when he received a short prison sentence, and when Chris first met him, he was very shy, but keen to be involved in their ministry in the prison. Since his release, James has been working for Christian groups in Queensland, helping others who have had a difficult start in life. Chris still sees him regularly, and is encouraged by his great work in the local community.
After 20 years of dedicated service, Chris and Bill are retiring from their volunteer work with Prison Fellowship. “We have learned more from them than they have from us,” they say.
“We realised these aren’t just all bad eggs – they are just in bad situations…A lot [of the inmates] are bright, normal people who are ready to change their ways. A lot of the indigenous [inmates] are wanting to get back to their Christian faith.”
Chris and Bill began their ministry after learning about Prison Fellowship through fostering children. As many of the children’s parents were in prison at the time, Chris and Bill became very familiar with the prison system and met many of the inmates. It was through Prison Fellowship that they began to visit prisons and run courses for the inmates.
Chris and Bill’s ministry has been life-changing for many inmates, with many coming to faith, and many others grateful for their genuine care and kindness. A few years ago, when Chris and Bill initially planned to retire, the prison officers threw them a farewell party. One man, who had been in prison for life, carved a bowl for them as a parting gift. Astounded, they said to him, “We don’t even know you – why did you carve this for us?” He politely replied, “I have seen you visit the prison every week for many years. We saw you walk past.” The impact of their ministry has reached far beyond the courses they ran, into the hearts of those who watched on from a distance.
Chris was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) earlier this year for her years of service to foster children and prison inmates in Queensland.
Chris and Bill say they feel very blessed to have been involved in this ministry and impact so many lives.
We are so thankful to Chris and Bill’s selfless dedication to those so often forgotten by society.
*prisoners’ names have been changed.
Emma Sugars – Staff Writer
Photo: ABC News (used by permission)