Mark 16:15 says, “…go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” When this verse is read, the word “world” often jumps out at people. They tend to think that they must travel to faraway places to share the gospel. It is forgotten that there are so many people all around that have never heard of Christ and his love. There is a multitude of ways one can share the gospel at home, such as getting involved in a local church, volunteering for youth outreach programs, or even getting involved in a prison ministry. Whatever the method, the goal is to bring as many souls to Christ as possible.
Jamie Marquis, former police officer and now 5th grade teacher, loves to share about his time volunteering in the prison ministry. Marquis’ father had been involved in prison ministry, and he had heard about a certain organization through some friends at church. Marquis knew he wanted to volunteer and serve in any way that he could. “It was something that God laid on my heart. I like to share my faith and my testimony of how God had worked in my life. It was just an opportunity to serve and help someone else.” Marquis was involved in the Kairos Prison Ministry and its sub-program, Horizon Interfaith, for 7 years from 1999 to 2006, serving at the Marion Correctional Institution located in Marion County, Ohio.
As with any ministry or gospel program, there can be many challenges as well as benefits. Marquis commented that the pros definitely outweighed the cons, but that does not mean that there were none. “You have to be careful. These guys are incarcerated for a reason, so you always need to be on guard,” he said. Marquis recalls a specific instance where an inmate in the program had convinced everyone that his son had been brutally murdered and that his mother had passed away. Wanting to help support him, the entire prison took up a donation to send to this inmate’s family. It was later discovered that it was all a lie and nobody knew where the money had truly gone.
Challenges set aside, there were many things Marquis loved about the ministry. Another inmate that impacted Marquis was a man who had been given a life sentence for murder. This inmate had plans to get out on parole and immediately seek out and kill the man that murdered his brother. This inmate’s parole was denied and part of his testimony is that he was thankful to God because he knew what would have happened if he had been granted parole. “The Bible says every way of man is right in his own eyes,” comments Marquis on one of his favorite parts about the prison ministry, “But people in prison have no choice but to face the fact that they did something wrong because they were caught and charged for it. Those guys know, understand, and are forced to come to grips with the forgiveness that they need. People on the outside, we still think we are decent people, but we do not necessarily identify with our sin being so despicable. These guys did, so to see sincere appreciation for salvation was something that really impacted me.”
Kairos is an organization that puts on three-day evangelical programs with the sole purpose of spreading the gospel to inmates. Horizon Interfaith is an annual year-long program that formed out of these Kairos events, and its original purpose was to follow up with and disciple to inmates who had become believers. However, they saw the need to be inclusive and changed the program to allow believers of different religions to participate. This program is very beneficial not only in the spiritual aspect, but also in the physical.
To be a part of the program, inmates are required to apply and demonstrate that they are actual believers and not just applying for the perks. If an inmate were to get accepted into the program, they would be permitted to live in a conjoined dorm-style living area with kitchen and television benefits. They then get paired with a mentor of the same religion (Christian with Christian, Muslim with Muslim, etc.), and the mentors and inmates have weekly meetings to talk, form relationships, and discuss the Bible (or their religion). Marquis was one of these mentors, and he recalls that there were about 70 people involved altogether, inmates and mentors. “I loved ministering and seeing genuine transformations in these men’s lives,” he said.
Making connections with others, especially other believers, is so important. Being in the prison ministry, Marquis was able to meet people that he may have never met otherwise as well as people who were able to make a difference in Marquis’ faith. “Scripture says he who is forgiven much loves much. The truth of that is apparent when you see guys that understand their despicable sin and understand that they’re forgiven. They really are appreciative, and it’s something that you remember. You remember what that sincerity looks like, and you can kind of self-assess and ask ‘Am I really that grateful?’ or ‘Do I really identify that my sin is so despicable?’ So it’s kind of a constant reminder.”
Marquis would definitely recommend getting involved in the prison ministry and wishes to get involved again himself. He says it is “eye-opening,” “worthy of service,” and “challenging as well as rewarding”. Marquis advises to always be wise and discerning. He also says to “…know the ministry you’re involved in and make sure that you’re going to be able to maintain good doctrine.” Whether you are aiming to specifically disciple to inmates or just looking for a way to spread the gospel, the prison ministry, whether independent or with an organization, is a wonderful and fruitful ministry for all.
Media by Cord Buchanan.