Ministry in Prison
HARRAH, OKLA. – “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me,” Matthew 25:43. These are haunting words that one would hope our Saviour might never say to us.
Heeding the admonition in Matthew, Guthrie Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders Leonard and Carol Tucker began holding worship services for prisoners at Joseph Harp Correctional Center 26 years ago. They invited the Oklahoma Academy Choir and Bell Choir to sing and play.
The inmates loved it and asked them to come again. The choirs continued to visit the prison until a change to the law no longer allowed it. The Tuckers then started a Bible school for inmates in Oklahoma called Evangelistic Enterprises. The Bible school utilized the assistance of students from Oklahoma Academy to help grade the answered Bible studies. Currently, there are more than 200 inmates taking Bible studies with Evangelistic Enterprises. The ministry has grown so much; it truly deserves our prayers and our donations to keep this worthy mission amongst us going!
In 1992, Guthrie members and leaders Keith and Lavelle Mackey took over the worship services at Joseph Harp, and then Floyd Thornton joined them. Thornton took over in 1993 and the group has grown from just a handful to more than 30 who attend regularly.
The ministry’s volunteer base has become larger, too, and our faith and courage has strengthened greatly. Since then, there have been services every Sabbath. We have a song service, praises and prayer requests, a mission story and lesson study time, then a sermon. The inmates enthusiastically participate.
Audrey Sandvik and I co-direct the services now and the members themselves direct a Sabbath afternoon Bible study. There is also a Spanish group which has grown to about eight inmates and the group is also meeting with volunteers on Sabbath afternoons. The members have a Bible class on Wednesdays and a Spanish one on Thursdays.
We enjoy a Communion service every quarter with Len Harbeson presiding, and an Agape feast in June. At Christmas time, we have an eagerly-anticipated breakfast along with the Sabbath service and once had "Christmas Behind Bars" bring their goodie bags out. The inmates were thrilled!
We also give out hygiene and goodie bags each year with the Christmas breakfast. We have had two Daniel Fasts and ended them with a fellowship meal. We held a Memorial Service for one member who died.
To the glory of God, we've had several inmates baptized or join the church through Profession of Faith in the past few years. They have grown spiritually and are now helping out with the services, as they are able. Joining in the services helps them know that they belong, and under the volunteer's supervision, they assist in taking roll, setting up chairs, getting the music instruments ready, leading song services, prayers, the mission story and Sabbath school lesson. We see them mature and become solid Seventh-day Adventist members this way.
Our team currently includes Floyd Thornton, Joann Stiggers, Orville and Janice Roberts, Philip and Audrey Sandvik, and myself. Occasionally, Leonard and Carol Tucker still join us.
Since I started going to prisons in 2014, I have found this ministry very rewarding and inspiring! Is God calling you to join in visiting those in prisons and sharing the word of life to them? If so, I'm warning you, get ready to be blessed in fulfilling God's injunction to visit hungry souls that are waiting there!
By Claire Luz Diaz-Henderson