Captive audience, with liberty to stay away!
Gerard Chrispin discusses a unique prison double mission
During DAYLIGHT’s Easter Mission at HMP Verne and Young Offenders Institute (YOI) at Portland, one inmate called Bert (all prisoners names changed) declared that the Christianity Explored (CE) course – modified for prison use – had ‘filled in the cracks’ in his gospel understanding.
Fred, a mature man but young Christian, was euphoric about how God had blessed him. A former brawler, his newly gained loving patience already testified to God’s saving grace in Christ. But the DAYLIGHT mission and integrated CE course opened his eyes to truths he had not really appreciated before.
Some attendees had little knowledge of the saving message of the cross and resurrection of Christ. At the YOI afternoon groups and The Verne’s evening meetings, the inmates drank in and humbly discussed gospel truths.
The DAYLIGHT team of Dr Nigel Robinson, David Fortune, Stephen James and Gerard & Phillippa Chrispin was strengthened by guest speakers Dr Fortune Ncube and Mike Mellor.
Sometimes it was hard to remember they were sharing the gospel with ‘serious criminals’. What a privilege to explain that forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ is for those turning from their sins and trusting the one who died bearing our sins’ punishment on the cross! How humbling to hear inmates volunteer openly that they had failed and needed forgiveness and a new start!
Here is a slightly altered extract from Bert’s letter: ‘It’s hard to find words of thanks for The Bible Panorama book … It’s giving me a better understanding of the Bible. I can remember you saying that reading the Bible is like eating fish – leave the bones on one side to begin with and enjoy the meat. However, now I am able to sift the bones.
‘It was a great privilege to attend the first DAYLIGHT/CE course. My view is that the course was close to perfect … It helped me strengthen and understand more of what my faith means to me …
‘I got a few good friends from the guys at the course. I have grown closer to Fred and keep my eye on Jim’.
Fred’s enthusiastic letter was harder to follow. It was illustrated with a smiling sunflower (I think!) over Isaiah 61:10-11. It included the following: ‘God is so merciful and mighty in all things. Without Jesus there would be no life. We have so much to thank our mighty God for – Jesus is our hope, light, life, victory. Amen! The cross is the signpost of God’s love for us’.
That letter came from a previously violent man, now admitting his sin with shame and enthusing about his Saviour with gratitude.
The shortened CE morning course at The Verne was followed by afternoon discussion groups at YOI and a return each evening to share the gospel with 50-60 men.
Some moved a long way in their understanding of the gospel. One in particular appeared to come to Christ. Strikingly, during the week he changed from coming unshaven and unkempt to arriving tidy and clean shaven! Was he reflecting outwardly an inward, spiritual change?
Each CE group hosted meaningful open discussions, leading to many one-on-one conversations and a real appreciation of the Christian message.
Each evening at The Verne, the case for the Christian faith and gospel were presented. The open question time impressed us with the depth and perception of the men’s questions and comments. Nigel Robinson, formerly a research scientist, gave a riveting talk on the wonders of DNA and how it carries the genetic code.
He insisted that DNA could only exist by the design of an almighty Creator God. At both establishments he explained that ‘God made the world, God made the rules, we have broken the rules, and we need his forgiveness’. He proclaimed Christ as the Saviour. He also gave a convincing talk on the reliability of the Bible as God’s Word.
Mike Mellor spent an evening at The Verne and an afternoon at YOI, where David Fortune cross-examined him on how becoming a Christian had transformed him from a hopeless alcoholic to a fervent preacher of the gospel. Some with addiction problems found this talk particularly helpful.
On Good Friday, David Fortune spoke powerfully about the cross of Christ and the immense cost of our redemption. On Saturday, Gerard Chrispin presented ‘Resurrection, myth or miracle’, arguing from evidence about the truth of this historic event and how we could benefit from it by saving faith in Christ.
On both Sundays at The Verne, different members of our team preached to a packed chapel. On the first Sunday at the YOI, two of us led a small group after the service and David preached on Easter Sunday. Many gospel leaflets, booklets and books were gratefully received by the inmates. Letters received since confirm that they are being read seriously.
DAYLIGHT is currently in discussion with other chaplaincies about similar CE pilot schemes in other prisons. More details from:http://www.daylightcpt.org or DAYLIGHT Christian Prison Trust, PO Box 3173, Swindon, SN6 7WN.