Subscribe now

News

More in this category:

Should British Evangelicals be in prisons?

October 2004

We cover here the launch a a new conservative evangelical mission to reach prisons across the UK. Gerard Chrispin shares the vision behind DAYLIGHT Christian Prison Trust.

Only rarely do we seem to hear anything good about prisons in the UK. By God’s grace there is a notable and encouraging exception — for those who know the Lord Jesus Christ, and who are passionate for his gospel and wish to see his church involved in a needy but open mission field on their doorsteps.

For the prayer and support of God’s people, the birth is announced of a new UK missionary society firmly based on the Bible — DAYLIGHT Christian Prison Trust.

Depressing headlines

According to the depressing headlines, some 84,500 people are incarcerated in UK prisons on any one day (76,000 in 137 prisons in England and Wales, 7,100 in 16 Scottish prisons and 1,400 in Northern Ireland’s 3 prisons).

How many separate inmates are there in a year? It is difficult to know, but the Scottish Prison Service estimates that the daily figure should be multiplied by four or five to arrive at an annual number. Applying a factor of five to the UK daily total suggests 422,500 separate occupancies annually — which easily exceeds some cities’ population.

Mangled maze

The background to these statistics reveals a mangled maze of smashed lives, shattered families, and broken victims of all ages. It reflects a depressing net of guilt, shame, despair and hopelessness.

Some say, ‘Lock ‘em up, and throw away the key!’ Others respond that prison is inappropriate for many criminals, who should be dealt with by non-custodial sentences. Yet others fear increasing crime in our already lawless society, and wish to safeguard the public by building more prisons or reinstating capital punishment.

One wonders if politicians really give the right priority to the state of our prisons and prisoners. Prisons do not attract the floating vote — as do tax concessions or improved public services.

Being imprisoned is itself a punishment. The ‘banging up’ of human beings, sometimes for twenty-three hours a day, should cause real concern. Two inmates often share a cell designed for one. It becomes a joint toilet, bedroom, dining room and living room.

However culpable its occupants, this seems Dickensian. But nearly every prisoner leaves at least one victim, and often other sufferers, because of the wrong done. We cannot lose sight of that either.

Prison chaplaincies

Each prison’s chaplaincy seeks to meet in-house religious needs. Having evolved into an ecumenical organisation, the chaplaincy is now multi-faith in nature. Co-ordinating chaplains may be Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Free Church, Muslim or — if deemed appropriate in a particular situation — of another religion.

Although this concerns some, it must be right for an adherent of a given religion to be allowed access to an appropriate representative. Obviously, all are free to share their beliefs openly, provided this privilege is not abused. I personally would argue strongly for the right of anyone to differ with me. I would argue equally strongly that I also have the same right to differ with others.

In today’s multi-faith environment, it is even more important for Christians to express their conviction that the Bible is the unique, inspired, infallible and complete word of God — revealing Jesus Christ as the risen, ascended and eternal Son of God. Christ alone can claim, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’. Clearly, in all these matters, light must prevail over heat!

Welcome

Prison chaplains reflect the same wide variety of theological beliefs as religious leaders on the other side of the bars. Because of this, most chaplains openly — and we have found warmly — accept visiting speakers, teams and helpers from divergent theological stables.

The good news for considerate Evangelicals is that we are welcome too! Why then are comparatively few traditional conservative Evangelical churches or groups involved in gospel ministry in this wide open mission field?

Many prison workers have Charismatic views. Some do excellent work. Many are extremely faithful and very caring. They invariably welcome and encourage us as we preach the gospel to the inmates — and respect our unapologetically Bible-based and non-Charismatic position.

They are criticised by some from our own stable, but D. L. Moody’s comment is relevant. When criticised for the way he preached he replied, ‘I like the way I do it more than the way you don’t!’

The DayOne connection

From small beginnings, DayOne Prison Ministries (DOPM) has made some inroads into the overwhelming need. Some 25 years ago, a few hundred diaries were donated to the chaplain at the legendary Dartmoor Prison. Called Happy Day Diaries, they contained photos and daily Bible texts.

Requests flowed in from other prison chaplains and were met with gracious generosity. Many more diaries (renamed DayOne Diaries) were given free of charge. Invitations abounded to take Sunday services and week-day meetings, but rarely were enough DayOne personnel available.

Accordingly, the Council decided to employ a Director of Prison Ministries to build on the immense good will engendered, and I was privileged to be appointed in April 2000. My wife, Phillippa, also donates her time to the work.

In December 2003 a total of 155,000 complimentary diaries were distributed. Many prisons welcome us to present the gospel at Sunday services and week-day meetings — as far apart as Inverness, Guernsey, Dartmoor, Wales, East Anglia and Northern Ireland.

Helped by Paul Philpott, himself an assistant prison chaplain, we continue to build a team of locally-based honorary Prison Ministry Associates to preach Christ in nearby prisons.

The opportunity

An average Sunday morning congregation comprises about seventy inmates. That can vary from a handful (very rarely) to more than double that number. We often take two or three services, occasionally four and very rarely five.

At times we run the whole service while at other times we get 15 or 20 minutes to present the gospel. Week-day meetings usually are limited to 30 inmates, and we have between 30 and 90 minutes.

The programme includes prayer, Bible readings, teaching texts, testimonies, lively open question times, and presentation of the gospel. We normally use visual aids on a display board, remembering Bunyan’s emphasis on ‘eye gate’ as well as ‘ear gate’.

God usually blesses, with prisoners listening eagerly to the gospel and expressing warm gratitude that we took time to visit. They appreciate the personal handshake and word on both entering and leaving.

They seem keen to take gospel booklets back to their cells with them, often after chatting afterwards over a cup of tea or coffee. Inmates’ letters often follow those meetings. Each is replied to personally. Truly, the overwhelming need of these folks is only matched by the unique opportunity to share the gospel with them.

Scratching the surface

But we only scratch the surface. Given resources, and workers with a heart and aptitude for this gospel work, we could put many, many more labourers into this harvest field. Those coming on our teams are amazed — one Christian leader said he was ‘stunned’ — at the opportunity and need.

We need much more good, prisoner-friendly literature. Literacy among prisoners can be poor. Our vision is to preach the gospel thoughtfully, clearly, compellingly and compassionately, to as many as possible — and support this ministry by literature and courses.

We want to impart both this vision and the associated practical know-how to more Evangelical churches and groups. Given financial provision and personnel, we will team up with them, sponsoring training courses and ‘on the job training’.

We will seek to link prison chaplaincies with nearby DAYLIGHT teamed churches. Christians could write letters; mark correspondence courses (when we have them!); visit individuals; follow-up both those inside and recently released; and run services and meetings.

Vision and synergy

Such is the DayOne heartbeat for this work — which frankly is not its core business as a Christian publisher — that initially it will retain me half-time as Director of DOPM from October, when I would otherwise have retired. They will also continue to donate over 161,000 DayOne Diaries to the work each year.

DAYLIGHT’s trustees have asked me to direct DAYLIGHT’s prison ministry in tandem with DOPM, recognising the natural synergy between them. DAYLIGHT will put workers into the field, full time or part time as resources allow.

God willing, DAYLIGHT will also provide literature and courses and cultivate teaming arrangements with churches in sympathy with our doctrinal basis, ethos and work.

Needs

This is a huge undertaking! We really do need churches and Christians to pray, get involved, and team with us — that we might help them in this gospel work. We shall need finance, both at this early launch stage and on an ongoing basis, if we are to employ and maintain others in the work. We can only make limited progress otherwise.

We run a simple, low profile sponsorship scheme that we hope will be adopted by thousands of Christians without making serious inroads into their giving to other causes.

Further details from Gerard Chrispin at DAYLIGHT, 32 Bassett Row, Southampton, SO16 7FS (e-mail [email protected] org.uk; phone 023 8076 7874). When completed, the website will be www.Daylight CPT.org

Tags:
News