Christmas Packets to Relationships: Year-Round Prison Ministry
The spotlight can shine bright on the needs of hurting people around the holidays. Many look to share blessings, provide gifts or show love within the community during this season as an outpouring of their relationship with Jesus. The annual Christmas packets for prisoners that South Carolina Baptists provide is a great example, and this year enough packets were collected to give to the more than 19,000 inmates currently living in correctional facilities around the state.
The packets contain more than basic toiletries, stationery and mints – they get Gospel tracts and devotional materials into the hands of men, women and juvenile offenders living “behind the walls.” South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) SERVE Team Leader Jon Jamison is thankful for the generosity of Baptists who have supported this ministry for more than 40 years.
“The faithfulness of SCBC churches over the years produces immediate and long-lasting impacts among inmates,” Jamison says.
Riverland Hills Baptist Church member Tim Brown helped assemble packets before he delivered some to his friends living at Goodman and Broad River Correctional Institutes. During his 37 years of prison ministry, Brown has participated in worship services, Bible studies, financial courses and a men’s fraternity. He’s also been known to employ those recently released for yard work, just to help them get back on their feet.
“I have seen many inmates come to know Jesus. Some have even said they are glad they came to prison because they met Jesus there and wouldn’t have met Him otherwise. There’s no better feeling than to see someone go from death to life when they pray to receive Christ,” Brown says.
Several years ago, Brown’s group welcomed an inmate into the men’s fraternity who led a Wiccan prison group. He first started attending in August, and by January prayed to follow Jesus.
“Jesus has commanded us to visit those in prison. It’s an opportunity to be an ambassador for Jesus and live out the Great Commission. Prison ministry has also helped me immensely in my own spiritual growth,” Brown says.
Pat Hewitt, member of First Baptist Mullins and Woman’s Missionary Union Director for the Marion Association, knows of several local churches involved in ministries at a minimum-security prison camp and leading Bible studies at a women’s correctional facility. She points out that prisoners are no different than other members of society when it comes to their need and desire for relationships.
“Everybody has a story. Sometimes they just want us to ask so that they can share. We are to love them, and there is so much out there that we can all be a part of,” she says.
One such organization is JumpStart, which disciples current and former prisoners and helps them with re-entry to society. Mindy Jamison is the regional JumpStart representative for the Midlands of South Carolina and says volunteers are trained to walk alongside inmates during a 40-week discipleship program that’s currently offered in 17 South Carolina Department of Corrections facilities. She hears from inmates who are excited to receive the Christmas packets from “the Baptists,” and who would welcome those who are willing to take the next step in prison ministry.
“The packets build on ongoing ministries in the prisons and serve as touch points that lead some to ask spiritual questions or reach out to a chaplain. JumpStart is an effective and beautiful way for church members to disciple inmates on a weekly basis. The Gospel is alive and well in our institutions. People are coming to know the Lord and it’s exciting to be a part of discipleship there,” she says.
Monthieth Young dedicated his life to Christ and was discipled while imprisoned. He saw the positive impact of the Christmas packets on the lives of prisoners, including his own.
“When I first got one I thought, ‘wow people really do care about us and they’re not judging us or looking down on us because we are behind the fence.’ I was not going to throw anything away and read everything that was sent to me. It was a blessing that someone cared about us,” he says.
Young, who was released last year and is now an active member of Christian Home Baptist Church in the Chester Association, reports that Christian brothers in prison fellowship with one another, study the Bible together and get to know the God who loves and cares for them. When new inmates arrived at his facility, Young encouraged them to trust God because He could change their life. He stays in touch with some friends still incarcerated and talks with at-risk youth about how God provides a better way than the lifestyle they’re currently involved in.
“Be a voice so that someone can hear you, know your testimony and know where you come from. I want my voice out there to be heard so they can know that we have good Christian brothers and sisters in this world. Forget what we did or our past, look at us as humans who made mistakes. God is amazing and has showed me so much. He’s the Alpha and Omega and has been a blessing to me,” Young says.