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Stories of hope

The joy of volunteering – A story of God’s grace 

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My name is Jan and I’ve been volunteering with Prison Fellowship since 1992. One year, we were asked by the Department of Corrections to support seven men on parole who had agreed to participate in a Horticultural Course as a means of acquiring skills that might be useful after their release. One man, Alf*, wished to participate in the course, but he had an intellectual disability and couldn’t read or write. Alf was on parole for 25 years, with an ankle tracking device.

I clearly remember the day I was taken to be introduced to Alf. This was my first time meeting an inmate, and I remember thinking, ‘God, couldn’t you give us an easy one to start with?’

As I walked into the room, I took in a man with long unkempt hair, very few teeth, cross eyes, and a gammy leg. I’m sad to admit, he looked like a typical ex-con in my eyes. But I quickly saw that Alf had a happy smile and had a quick mind and a good memory. He was very keen to learn!

Each week, Alf was visited by one of our team. We would revise the horticultural lessons he had had in the past week and read with him, answering any of his questions. To be sure, Alf did all of the work! He would patiently write out the answers to each question, as I spelled out each letter for him to write. And his hard work paid off. At the end of the course, Alf was the only man to complete the course, and he gained a certificate! This was the first time Alf had finished anything, and we had a great celebration the day he received his award. He was over the moon!

It was only after Alf had finished the course that we realised how much progress he had made, not just in terms of his literacy, but personally, too. This was the first time Alf had made some friends! We felt compelled to continue to support him however we could. While the Horticultural course was not a Christian course, Alf told us that he wanted to go to church. He had never gone to church before and he knew nothing of the Bible. I gladly agreed to help him find a church, but he said, ‘No, I want to go where my two volunteers go, that is where I want to go.’ This was my home Uniting church, and so began a series of requests, visits with the Department of Corrections, Alf’s psychologist, my church minister, and the Church Council. Finally, all parties agreed to allow Alf to visit the church on Sundays. There were Statements of Regulations set down and to be adhered to by all parties. Nevertheless, Alf became a regular church attender. A few months later, Alf told me that he knows God is in the church, as he can see His light when he enters the building each Sunday. 

For the past 25 years, Alf has attended church regularly, and praise God, has been supported by the congregation of this Uniting Church. I am proud of this congregation for the love and support shown to Alf over the years. One of the ministers at this church told me, ‘This is the best thing I have ever been involved with in Church.’

Last year, Alf invited the volunteers who visit him, some members of his church, and his disability support worker to a luncheon to celebrate the end of his parole! Alf is now a free man. That day, Alf looked completely remade since the first time I saw him. He was well-dressed in a suit and tie, with his signature beaming smile. I am very proud of Alf and his hard work over the past 25 years. At the luncheon, he prayed aloud, thanking God for those who have continued to support him. My heart is full with the knowledge of our God of Grace, and I am grateful for his blessings! 

Jan Davis

Volunteer, Queensland

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