Go For Gold

“How many camps have you been to?”

“Well I’ve been going since I was 8 years old and I’m 17 now, so it’s been quite a while…”

Couper says he didn’t expect much when he first started going to camp, but it had a lasting impact in his life. 

I asked him the best thing about being on camp. 

“All the support I got,” he said. “Everyone knows why you’re there but not the specifics of what’s going on, so it’s a big safe space.” 

Camp for Kids is designed for children who have one or more parents in prison. It gives kids a chance to get away from ‘normal life’ for a time, and to spend some time with positive role models and other children who understand their situation. 

When asked what was hard about camp, Couper says it is largely the same as the best thing. “Opening up. You’re not sure what other people are going to think, but it’s just a safe space. Especially when I was young, there was a lot of help for me to learn to tell my story. It’s not as hard to talk about anymore. And if you feel comfortable telling your story you can just go for gold!” 

Learning to share and be vulnerable was a big step for Couper, but it helped him to process his situation and family life. 

Now, Couper is a junior leader, and has been on many camps helping kids like him to process their own stories. 

“I enjoy being a leader a little bit more than being a camper. It’s great being a role model for the kids. Last year one of the kids, Toby*, started his first camp saying he hated it and wanted to go home. By the end of camp, he said, ‘oh, I’ll see how I feel about coming on camp next year…’ This year he came back and was much better behaved. When you get kids who are very misbehaved, you notice it on the first day, but by the last day you wouldn’t even recognise them!”

We talked about the donors who make camp possible, and what Couper might say to the people who gave financially towards his camp experiences. 

“You’re doing a huge thing for people who definitely need it. All the kids appreciate it more than anyone understands. They should keep donating, if they can!”

When I asked Couper what the best camp activities are, and any stories he might have, Couper said, “Everything is amazing! Every kid loves the quad bikes, because it’s different to everyday life. The flying fox and giant swing still make me nervous by how high they are, but as a leader you just put on a brave face for the kids and say, ‘it’s not that bad!’”

Now finished high school, Couper is exploring what his future holds. He is planning to study as a personal trainer, and then move into P.E. teaching. 

“I used to think teachers suck and that I would never be a leader and teaching is horrible. But on my last camp everyone was like, ‘You’re so patient with the kids’. I realised I like helping kids. It wasn’t only because of camp, but it did influence my decision.”

*Name has been changed.

Our Impact

Last Time In Prison

Frank* says God brought him back to prison. After meeting God in one of his earlier stints behind bars, Frank showed all the signs of a changed man. But the pressures of life outside found him surrounded by the old temptations of alcohol and other substances. While some people might be discouraged to see Frank back in prison, volunteer Andrew sees a man who has actually taken steps forward. 

“In himself he recognises the change in his life,” Andrew says. “He used to have tattoos across his face that said awful things, but he’s gone and got them lasered off. The other day he lifted up his shirt to proudly show me that now he has ‘Jesus Christ is king’ on one side of his chest and ‘the Word made flesh’ on the other.” 

Andrew knows that often the Christian walk has set-backs and mistakes, but that God’s grace doesn’t waver. He sees Frank’s progress and has hope for his future. 

When asked what excites him about his future with Prison Fellowship, Andrew says he can’t wait to be part of developing more post-release support. “So often these guys say, ‘last time I was in prison…’ I want to jump in that gap. I want them to say, ‘this is the last time I will be in prison’. I’d love to be that support team for them.”

While post-release support has a great deal of challenges, Andrew is excited to see Prison Fellowship grow to be able to facilitate more of such support. 

“I love Prison Fellowship. I have even adopted their statement of faith for myself, and I watch the videos about Chuck Colson every year.” 

Sharing the good news of Jesus in prison has been impactful even for Andrew personally. “I feel equipped in the sense that you always see your weakness and need for God, but I had not even a scrap of fear visiting prison. I didn’t feel I had to learn how to go and mix with a prisoner. I love these guys so much I can’t wait to walk in those doors. I want to show them unjudgemental love, that what they have done doesn’t even come into my mind, and I see them how God sees them. It has made me appreciate even more the wonder of what Jesus did for us. I’ve lived quite a sheltered life, but this has opened my eyes to just how kind and merciful God is.”

Andrew is thankful for donors who support these relationships in prison. “Encourage them,” he says. “I know what it’s like to come to a big month of bills, but God is using Prison Fellowship donors in an amazing way. Keep it up. I am so thankful for Prison Fellowship and who they are, and give God all the praise for that.”

*Name has been changed

You’ll Never Be Alone

“Eight years ago I was a practitioner at a family relationships centre. I used to drive past a women’s prison every day on my way to work. One day while passing the prison, God said to me, ‘there is a connection there.’ I was worried and prayed, ‘no way, I don’t want to be in there, I’ll be really good!’ At this point in time I was unaware of Prison Fellowship.

“Years later, a lady at church shared about Prison Fellowship, and invited me to come to a volunteers’ morning tea. I went and it connected the dots for me and that this was something I needed to do.”

Charnay has now completed three sessions as a facilitator of The Prisoner’s Journey course. She says that when she first went into prison, she wasn’t sure how she would feel. “But I do love people and feel quite a burden for the broken-hearted,” she says. “All I felt for those ladies was love.”

— 

The turning point in Charnay’s own life came fifteen years ago. “I was a single mum of a three-year-old daughter.” Overwhelmed, Charnay turned to a dear friend who encouraged her to seek Jesus. “The Lord strengthened me, and I have become so much closer to him in relationship. Sometimes we make him savior but not Lord, that is, to put him first over everything.” Charnay’s experience of God’s closeness to her has influenced how she speaks with prisoners. 

“When I went in on the first day it was quite incredible. One of the prisoners, Lily*, came to the session but wasn’t saying much at all – only her name when we went around the room. After the video, the Lord prompted me to say, ‘On this journey you’ll get to know Jesus, who he is and why he came. I’d like to say that when we do get to know him and have a relationship with him, you’ll never feel alone.’ Lily just burst into tears and said she had been feeling so lonely. She had been inside for nine months and had not had one visitor. It touched her heart that Jesus doesn’t want her to feel alone.” 

Being new to Prison Fellowship, Charnay is unsure what the future holds. She has done three sessions so far, and says, “I’m just so new. At this stage I’m just enjoying the opportunity to go in and run The Prisoner’s Journey and see how it all goes. I’m excited that there is another course booked for later in the year. [Going to prison] is the day I look forward to more than any other day! It’s a privilege to share God’s Word!” 

*Name has been changed

Tyson’s TPJ Turnaround

Forgiving My Husband’s Killer

Turning the Page

Why Forgive?

A Speech Well Prepared

Angel Tree Journey