February 2018: It Started with One Letter
Over the last twenty years, God has done many things through this ministry. There is one thing I could never have predicted, it started with one letter from a prison in Florida. A young man had gotten a hold of one of our teachings on CD and wrote to Far Reaching Ministries (FRM) asking for a Bible. My staff sent this man a Bible, along with an encouraging letter. Within a couple weeks, letters started coming in almost daily. Cayley, who has served at our U.S. office for over 15 years, took the project under her care and began sending Bibles to those who would write in asking for a study Bible and discipleship material. The project grew so quickly that my assistant, Ed Gauntt, began to help with writing the return letters. Along with Ed and Cayley, our volunteer staff has made it possible to keep up with mounting requests for Bibles. This ministry has grown tremendously.
In the span of two years, we have sent hundreds of Bibles and discipleship materials to inmates in prison. According to many of them, who write us back, they are experiencing a revival in this prison. I’ve had the opportunity on two separate occasions to experience this first hand when I was asked to speak to these inmates at the prison chapel. I have seen the joy these men have in the Lord! Regardless of their number of years of incarceration, some having life sentences, they desire to serve and be used by the Lord while in prison.
Before the Lord sent me to South Sudan, many of you know I spent five years doing evangelism, traveling to federal youth prisons across Russia. The inside of a prison is nothing new for me. I can tell you that I never get over the finality when those prison doors shut behind me, as I enter the hard world of a correctional facility. Crossing the long prison yard in front of me, on my way to the chapel building, I am met with my first sense of warmth and that is the brotherly greetings from these inmates whom I have come to visit and who have a love for Jesus Christ. I am quickly moved from the coldness of the prison walls to these men whom I have the blessing of spending most of the day teaching a men’s conference. I have never heard worship like I have heard within those walls. These men did not just worship, but they did it the way it was meant to be—not just music—real worship.
I travel all over the United States and the world speaking at churches. I must confess, I have rarely seen such joy and faith like these inmates possess. God has truly transformed many of them into His image. As I listened to their chapel praise band, I was reminded of Acts 16:25, About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and other prisoners were listening.
There is something so different about these men. I met one young man who was about 30 years of age and he didn’t seem to have the hardened look of a typical inmate. He seemed tremendously happy and full of joy carrying his Bible like it was a great treasure and he had what I call a “holy glow”—his face just shined. When I asked when he would be released, he said that he was in for life. He told me that he was truly not guilty of what he was convicted of. But then he said, “Wes, before I was in prison, I was lost. Here, I have found Christ and I am happy.” He told me that he was content to stay in prison if this is where he would flourish for the Lord.
From the first inmate’s letter requesting a Bible, we have expanded this outreach to sending Bibles to 17 correctional facilities. The inmates are sharing God’s Word with others wherever they go because they are often transferred to other prisons all over Florida. This has given us the opportunity to provide over 500 new study Bibles and other discipleship materials. I feel this is just a start of something that is going to keep growing. Not a week goes by when we do not receive letters requesting Bibles, and some weeks we receive 10 to 20 letters. It’s amazing to be part of the transformation in these men’s lives.
The last time I went to speak at this prison, I had a local Calvary Chapel pastor come with me to share our testimonies with the men. It was on a Saturday and the prison gave us permission to have the better part of a day to minister to the inmates. I got to know some of them personally and hear their personal testimonies of how God is transforming their lives. As I mentioned earlier, some are serving life sentences. I saw these men as my brothers in Christ, no different than when I’m with my chaplains in South Sudan teaching them. Through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, we are made one in Jesus Christ. One of the prison chaplain assistants told me,” You are the only ministry the men constantly request to return. While there are many good ministries, you have found favor with these men.”
The pastor who went with me to the prison was asked by the head chaplain if he would like to come once a week to teach the inmates. Of course, he immediately accepted and is now teaching the men verse-by-verse through the Bible.
The inmates send letters to FRM from time to time to thank us and provide updates on how they are progressing with their walk with the Lord. I want to share a few of these letters with you. Here are a few excerpts from these letters.
I want to say hello to everyone at Far Reaching Ministries. I’m sorry about my handwriting, but I’m an old man and my hands are shaky, but God is good. I can truly say that now, because a few months ago I was an Atheist until a young man sleeping in the bunk next to me got me believing that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is very much alive! Since then, I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I was told that I could write to Far Reaching Ministries for a Bible. Thank You!
I want to express my genuine gratitude for the Bible you sent me, (blessed me with). In the Bible, God says that love never fails, and I want to express my appreciation for your generous and benevolent act as your ministry sends us inmates top-shelf, quality Bibles and other Godly materials of encouragement. I’ve been in prison for 35 calendars years.
I have been saved for a little over two years and just transferred to this correctional facility where I see a movement of God. I also see a lot of nice Bibles that your ministry has blessed the men with and one of these solid men of God gave me your information to write you for a Bible. I have come a long way in the past couple of years and it’s all because of my relationship with the Father, my testimony and remembering that He is the potter and I am the clay.
I have recently just begun a relationship with Jesus Christ, and I’m in desperate need of a good study Bible. If you could help me with this matter it would be deeply appreciated!
The following excerpt is from a guard who works at one of the 17 correctional facilities. It is very important to keep his identity anonymous, but I want to include it to show that through God’s Word and the actions of the so-called “chapel inmates”, goes beyond just the inmates. Here is his testimony:
I feel like I have changed a lot when it comes to the treatment of the inmates. I have been at this prison for 9 years, 19 overall with the State. I used to be rude to all the inmates that would go to the chapel. I used to tell them that Jesus is not in prison. I used to tell the volunteers the same thing. Many years later, I see just how wrong I was. In my position as a guard, I’m not able to be friendly with the inmates, but I have changed my views and that came with time and maturity. Recently, I have changed my mindset when it comes to Jesus in prison. I have realized that it is not my job to judge. I am just really encouraged at what you all do. Thank you for sending me a Bible, this seems too good to be true. Are you guys for real? I’m humbled right now.
It has always been my belief that we are to share the very best of what God has provided for us. All the Bibles we send out are new, quality NKJV study Bibles, costing between $30 to $40 each, not counting the other study books and materials, plus the cost of shipping. As I mentioned in the beginning of this newsletter, as God leads us, we will continue to follow in obedience. It is possible that this outreach will continue to grow outside the state of Florida. If it does, we will continue to bless each inmate who writes to us requesting a Bible.
If you would count it a privilege to provide Bibles and discipleship materials to those in a place with no hope, it would be a blessing for you to partner with us in this ministry opportunity.
…I was in prison and you came to visit me. ~Matthew 25:36