Aftercare is the key
Mark Earley served in the Virginia Senate for a decade and as the stateÕs attorney general for four years. Three months after losing the Virginia gubernatorial race in 2001, Earley became president and chief executive officer of Prison Fellowship. The Lansdowne, Va.-based ministry, founded by Charles Colson in 1976, is active in 108 countries. Earley, 50, recently spoke with Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy.
PE: What is the biggest challenge in prison ministry today?
EARLEY: Motivating the church to see Jesus Christ in the prisoner. Our vision at Prison Fellowship is that God is raising up a new generation of leadership for His church from behind prison walls. We donÕt want to view prisoners just as criminals who need to be locked up for the rest of their lives. TheyÕre still people in whom God is capable of doing a redemptive work.
PE: What role do faith-based initiatives play in prison?
EARLEY: We see a renaissance going on. Churches are not only willing to go into prison but are willing to work with prisoners when they come out. This is critical if we are going to see people both come to Christ as Savior and continue to walk with Him as disciples.
PE: Our nationÕs prison population is at an all-time high. Are the current methods of rehabilitation working?
EARLEY: For quite a few decades we have failed to balance justice with mercy in American prisons and have forgotten the important role of rehabilitation. Of the 2 million people in prison today, 600,000 will be getting out in the next 12 months. ThatÕs a huge opportunity for the church.
PE: How can the average Christian help?
EARLEY: They can individually get involved in going to prison and ministering plus mentor or disciple a prisoner upon release. Unlike 20 years ago, virtually every church today has a member of the congregation or a loved one of someone who is in prison or who has been in prison.
PE: Is the answer to breaking the cycle of recidivism getting people involved in aftercare?
EARLEY: The cycle of recidivism is broken by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. But God ministers through His people.
PE: What can you tell me about the recent memorandum of understanding that Prison Fellowship has signed in partnership with the Assemblies of God Chaplaincy Department?
EARLEY: WeÕre delighted every time we can help train and connect volunteers with your chaplains. One program in which we assist the local church is Angel Tree. At Christmas, 550,000 children of prisoners receive a gift in the name of that prisoner through a church. In the summer, 11,000 prisonersÕ children attend a week of Christ-centered, Bible-based camping through Angel Tree.
PE: Why are programs such as Key Bearers — which provides free Christian literature to inmates — important?
EARLEY: So often those in prison who are following Jesus Christ feel cut off from the outside world. But the church inside the walls is thriving and God is raising a new generation of leaders. Christian magazines are a refreshing drink of water to people behind bars who are thirsting for encouragement in their own walk with Jesus.
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