How many of the people you know want to spend time with prisoners and ex-cons? When I tell people what I do, they are often less than enthusiastic.
Many balk at the word prisoner. Everyone knows prisoners are “bad and dangerous people” who will never change. Prisoners and ex-cons are not people they want to associate with.
But I have taken great encouragement from studying the Gospel of Luke recently. It seems that on every page Jesus is choosing to spend time with men and women whom others despise. In fact, it makes the religious leaders so crazy that they want to kill Him.
Luke 5 includes a great example. Jesus calls Levi, a despised tax collector, to follow Him, and the next thing you know, Jesus is at a party at Levi’s house with all of his tax collector friends. The Pharisees naturally start grumbling and ask, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” Jesus answers them. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).
So I will take my cue and encouragement from Jesus. Though many did not like the people Jesus ministered to, He understood His mission to the lost and persevered in reaching out to them. Jesus loved to be around those who were despised by the religious leaders of His day. He loved sinners, not just intellectually but personally. And what is even more revealing is that the outcasts loved Him.
This is why all of us at Prison Fellowship intend to persevere in sharing the Gospel of Jesus with prisoners, helping them grow as disciples, and reaching out to their children. We love them and their families, not just in word, but in deed. We are motivated by Jesus’ reminder in Matthew 25 that “if you visit a prisoner, you visit Me.”
We share the Good News of Jesus with prisoners not only because Jesus values them, but also because we believe in the Great Commission. Jesus commands us to make disciples of the entire world—not only the people we like to hang around and be seen with. What’s more, we believe that prisoners, like anyone who is sold out for Christ, can become laborers in the harvest—walking monuments to the grace and mercy of God who are reproducing their lives in the lives of others.
Today in 114 countries, Prison Fellowship follows Jesus into the darkness behind bars, offering His love and light.
Would you like to join and volunteer in this movement of Jesus? Would you like to become a roaring advocate for Prison Fellowship? If so, let us know! We are looking for the men and women who would have joined Jesus at Levi’s house party with the “tax collectors and sinners.” Men and women who are willing to take a risk in loving the unloved because they understand that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
Mark Earley is president of Prison Fellowship.
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