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‘Jesus changes lives even within prison walls’

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Peter Hall looks back on 30 years of volunteering

It’s a privilege to serve as chair of Prison Fellowship Australia and it follows on from three decades of volunteering in various capacities within the Prison Fellowship family. 

As a kid growing up in Shepparton, I had often passed Dhurringile prison and wondered what went on in that place, often seeing prisoners in their green outfits herding cattle or driving vehicles around the prison farm. Some years later in 1993, a mate of mine who ran a basketball competition at the prison, invited me to join the team. My mate left not long after I joined up and I often think he had a strategy! 

I enjoyed the matches we played each week, and slowly, slowly, I began to hang around longer after each match and was often invited back for a coffee to chat with the guys. I didn’t know anything about Prison Fellowship at the time, and was surprised to be contacted by the Victorian State Manager to check in on how I was going. After a brief chat we worked out that I probably needed some training and so I made time to get to the facility in  Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. When I arrived everyone was very friendly and happy to help. This is something special about Prison Fellowship – it’s more like a family and some of the people I met that night I still catch up with. 

Eventually, basketball morphed into volleyball, indoor bowls, outdoor bowls at the local club, and also indoor soccer at a facility in Shepparton where the inmates were bussed in. The prison had a modest number of guys initially, around 120, and I got to know most of them. I met up with Edgar Collier, a long time volunteer, and we began to run some informal Bible studies with the guys. These were very interesting occasions! Many vigorous discussions were held, including one occasion when the guys thought it would be good to have a debate with a very vocal atheist on site. On that night, which was heavily advertised, I reckon half the camp turned up! It was a very animated affair with some inmates wanting to make sure God won the evening. 

One memorable encounter in my time as a volunteer in prison involves an inmate, John*, who came along to the Bible study group for around three years. During that time he became a Christian! But as he was nearing his release on parole he was concerned about what might be in store for him in the outside world. John had been involved in organised crime and had fallen out with the other members of the crime syndicate. One evening as we were packing up to leave the prison, John asked me to wait behind. Then he turned to me and asked me, ‘Is it true that if someone puts their faith in Jesus, he forgives them and they will be accepted into God’s kingdom when they die?’ I gladly said, ‘Yes!’ Then I explained that this is the promise of Jesus and that he came specifically to seek those who were lost and bring them to salvation. But John was still unsure. ‘Even someone like me who has done terrible things?’ John was concerned that his crime was too much for Christ to forgive him, so I looked at him and said, ‘Yes. Look at Paul – he was a murderer of Christians, but Jesus saved him and set him loose to tell the world about Him! If it’s true for Paul, it’s true for us all!’

John went away relieved with a settled heart that night, and I was glad to be able to share the peace of Jesus with him. He left prison a few weeks later with assurance of his salvation. 12 months later, John had been found dead, a victim of retribution. It was a sobering thought for me that here in prison are many people, like John, who have uncertain futures, like us all, but we have the words of life that are only found in the Gospel.

Volunteering with Prison Fellowship has been one of the most rewarding parts of my Christian experience. I have met many friends both inside and outside prison. I have seen many men find faith in Jesus and hope for their future, as well as many who have benefited from the advice, friendship, and care offered by our volunteers. Programs such as The Prisoner’s Journey, Change on the Inside, t24, and many of the other in-prison programs are very effective at sharing God’s love with those inside. 

I have also had the opportunity to travel to Prison Fellowship ministries in other parts of the world and have seen first-hand the effectiveness of these programs. It truly is an international family! 

All the staff and volunteers I meet are passionate about what we do. I am very proud of Prison Fellowship, of all you do and the efforts you go to above and beyond to share the Gospel through your gifts and efforts. Our volunteers are some of the most energised and passionate people I have worked with in Christian ministry. This is a real encouragement to me and I thank God for the open doors he has given us to reach out to some of the most unloved people on the planet. Jesus changes lives even within prison walls, I have seen this first hand and the work many people do is having eternal effects. 

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