I refuse to call this a defense of HFP philosophy. I prefer to call it an explanation.
When telling of our work to church groups, I always explain that we do not teach Bible lessons in prison…other groups are already doing that. We do not openly try to convert inmates to Christianity. Other prison missionaries make that their goal. Our efforts are Christian in nature, because we believe we are showing compassion to inmates in the name of Jesus, but in a very practical way. I usually quote St. Francis of Assisi: Preach the gospel every day. Use words if necessary.
I go way back to the days when we started this organization in 2001. The name of our agency was still INNOCENT at that time. I had been asked by the Wisconsin Innocence Project to assist in helping a guy who was wrongly convicted. During my two days in Madison, I didn’t help free the man from prison. But I learned that he was completely estranged from his offspring due to his outrageous behavior in an earlier life. The man was a Christian now, repentant for what he had done, and in prison for something he didn’t do. To my huge satisfaction, I was able to convince his son to reluctantly re-establish a relationship with his dad. He did, and his sibs followed. Mr. V died a while back, surrounding by a loving family. In my mind, that accomplishment was as huge as freeing him from prison!
Since then we have made similar strides with other prisoners.
I’m especially mindful of Mac, who had lived a terrible life and in doing so had alienated his parents and his sister to the point that his family wouldn’t even let him get to know or visit his only child. He was alone in the world and in poor health when he decided that Christianity was his only route to peace.
Thanks to HFP and a lot of divine intervention, we were able to put relationships back together at least to a point where there were visits, people became civil with each other, and he was able to see his daughter before he died. We also took steps to improve his poor medical care behind bars, and to stop abusive treatment by prison staff. He died in peace.
We tried, to a lesser degree, to do some serious last-minute damage control in the case of Rocky before he died.
I continue to beat this tired old drum, because I know that many Christian prison ministries are doing very well financially, but ours continues to struggle, and I feel that it’s because many believers think that Bible study and overt evangelism is more important than our “action with compassion.”
I was reminded of all this today, when I saw that a Michigan prisoner who has personally watched us in action gets it, even if some of our friends may not. I received this kind message from Eddie this morning:
I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for the many selfless and compassionate acts that you have rendered to so many of us who are incarcerated. In the name of Jesus I pray that the Good Lord will bless you and yours in the year to come, and that He will bestow a special blessing on you this Christmas Season. May the memory of Rocky and Mac, both whom the Lord saved for Himself in their last days, be a witness to the great things that God has done through your willingness to be His humble and obedient servant. God Bless you!
No argument with St. Francis!