Our Father's Heart
by Constance Fink
For many years Anne Lawther lived near Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York, giving little thought to the souls incarcerated there – other than hoping none of them would break out and find her home.
Little did she know that one small step of following God’s prompting would unfold into a ministry to inmates and their families. It happened one day when she saw a need and thought of a simple way to use her gifts to meet that need. Anne did what came naturally to her and trusted God to reap the harvest.
JBU: When did the prison ministry begin?
ANNE: In January 2002, I called Chosen People Ministries in New York City to order some materials for personal use. The receptionist recognized my close proximity to Sing Sing Correctional Facility, and mentioned she had sent some books to David, a Jewish inmate. David had come to saving knowledge of Jesus through reading a Gideon Bible at the prison. I asked the receptionist for his name and ID number and began to correspond with him. That was the birth of the ministry.
JBU: How did the ministry grow?
ANNE: After a period of time of corresponding and visiting with David, he asked if I knew of a safe place where his wife could stay when she came to visit. I opened my home to her on a regular basis. Their daughters and grandchildren are now included in the outreach of the ministry, as well as other believing prisoners. In addition to Sing Sing, the ministry has grown to other facilities.
JBU: What is involved in the ministry?
ANNE: Several of us visit the inmates regularly to encourage them in their faith and provide practical help. Each visit begins with prayer and Scripture. We correspond with them at least once a month and receive collect phone calls when they need to talk. These brothers in Christ are in the middle of a mission field with huge potential for outreach. We have seen God’s love work in the hearts of the inmates and spill over to other prisoners and guards.
My local church provides prayer, financial, and practical support to the inmates and their families: lodging for visiting family members, Christmas gifts, Bibles and Christian books, and monthly care packages filled with fresh produce, meat and other grocery items for the inmates.
The ministry is not all one-sided. My believing brothers behind bars bless me beyond measure as they humbly pray and share the things they are learning from Scripture.
JBU: How did you know that this ministry was what God wanted you to do?
ANNE: In 2004, I focused on discovering what matters to the Lord, His priorities, etc. I discovered how important the Jews are to Him, especially those who do not understand salvation through Jesus. I discovered His heart for individuals who are outcast from society. In Matthew 25, Jesus mentions a number of ministries, saying, “…whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (verse 40) . If these were my Lord’s priorities, then I wanted them to be mine also.
JBU: What is the significance of the name for your ministry: Our Father’s Heart Ministries?
ANNE: The phrase “Our Father” was chosen to show the inclusiveness of the Gospel. Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves are also in the body.” Fellow believers in prison and I are loved by the same Heavenly Father!
JBU: What do churches need to know about ministry to prisoners?
ANNE: Attitude and integrity of the visitor are extremely important. E Stanley Jones stated, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” Because I also stood at the foot of the cross and found forgiveness, how can I withhold fellowship with another who repented, regardless of his sin?
It is difficult for an individual who has experienced cleansing and forgiveness of his/her sin by God, to live in an environment that is a constant reminder of the past. Unfortunately, the redeemed inmate is sometimes viewed with suspicion and contempt by those on the outside – even Christians. The spiritually forgiven inmates soak up the acceptance and affirmation in their faith we extend to them.
JBU: How can prisoners be helped once they leave prison?
ANNE: I remember the fervent admonition of a speaker at a Prison Fellowship conference, who said, “Do not be responsible for setting an inmate up for disappointment by giving him the impression that there is s support group in your church if the church is not prepared to receive him.” A church needs to be prepared to provide prison release ministry. The first six weeks are crucial to the parolee’s successful reentry into society. Most prisoners have little money, no means of transportation, housing or employment. In addition to welcoming and providing fellowship to the individual, assistance in finding housing and employment, teaching practical skills such as use of the computer and cell phone are very helpful. Important information in this paragraph was gained through a prison release course that I took at NY Divinity School; the textbook used was When Prisoners Come Home by Joan Petersilia.
God’s mercies are new every morning. As coworkers with Him, it is a privilege to help others experience the blessings of the second chance that God gives. To God be the glory!
Prison Resource Organizations
Prison Fellowship- www.prisonfellowship.org A multifaceted international Christian outreach for prisoners and their families. They seek the transformation of prisoners and their reconciliation to God, family and community through the power of Jesus Christ.
Alpha Prison Ministries- www.alphapm.org Conducts Bible studies, provides Bibles and literature . Volunteers mentor prison inmates.
Hudson Link- www.hudsonlink.org Provides college scholarships for qualifying inmates. Mercy College professors teach courses inside the prison. Forty of their graduates have been released and not one has recidivated.
Rehabilitation Through the Arts- www.rta-arts.org Provides a very positive training and acting experience for inmates. RTA works in 5 state prisons with innovative programs in theatre, dance, creative writing, voice and visual art.
Comforting Hearts Ministries- www.comfortinghearts.org Offer a monthly newsletter, Bible correspondence course and audio cassette ministry.
If you are interested in starting a prison ministry
Contact the local prison asking for names of those who would like visitors.
You must have prisoner’s name, address and ID number and send a letter of introduction. Upon receipt, they can grant permission for you to visit.
Visiting one on one, as a friend, allows contact with not only the prisoner, but also their family members- group ministries can’t have this contact, only individuals. Individual visits also entitle the visitor to bring care packages.
Churches or group ministries
Contact the chaplain of the correctional facility. If they have openings for groups or ministry teams to come and lead Bible studies or worship services, each team member must be screened and approved by the state. Musical instruments will be carefully scrutinized.
About Anne Lawther:
Anne’s Favorite Scripture: John 3:16-17
Favorite Song: “To God Be the Glory” (especially the phrase, “The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives!”)
Hobby: playing songs on the piano to bless others