Our Lord has some important things to say about His followers’ involvement in ministry to others. For example, in Matthew 25:36 we find, “I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
These verses are in the context of Jesus’ teaching about a future judgment and the separation of the “sheep” and the “goats.” The good deeds in the verse, and others mentioned by Jesus in the surrounding verses, are the fruit of one’s salvation, not a means to gain salvation. He intends for us to understand that when we serve others in His name, we are in fact serving Him.
The last phrase in verse 36 is emboldened on purpose: I was in prison and you came to Me.
Almost every county in the state has a county jail. Also, the state-run Arkansas Department of Corrections has two major divisions. The Division of Correction, with custody of some 15,000+ inmates, runs what most folks think of as traditional prisons. The Division of Community Correction has six licensed residential treatment centers for folks convicted of certain felonies (the inmates are referred to as residents) and supervises some 60,000 parolees and probationers in the state.
Friends, we need MORE Arkansas Baptists volunteering in our jails and prisons. Many county jails and prisons WANT quality, trustworthy volunteers. Volunteers can preach in worship services, assist chaplains, lead Bible studies, visit inmates, and more. Also, most Arkansas Division of Correction units have a faith-based program known as PAL. Chaplains are often looking for volunteers to teach in PAL – everything from parenting classes, handling finances, discipleship materials and more.
The Arkansas Baptist State Convention does not run a placement service, but we do offer training and work to point you in the right direction.
You’ll find two popular video courses on our website: https://www.absc.org/ministries/jail-and-prison-ministry. Under the “City or County Jail” heading you’ll find our online jail training course. It is also offered live every other year, but at your convenience you can download the listening guide and watch the entire presentation. Also, under the heading “Prison System” you’ll find our 1-Hour Prison Ministry Preview, which gives you an orientation to the things volunteers can do in Division of Correction units.
In January 2024, we are offering a one-day Jail and Prison Ministry Training with several specialized classes. Find those here.
You can also pray for and give to prison ministry work. The Dixie Jackson Arkansas Missions Offering helps fund the College at Mid-America, housed at the Varner Unit south of Pine Bluff. This ministry trains inmates with very long sentences on how to become field-ministers in Division of Correction Units. They receive an accredited bachelor’s degree and with additional training become field ministers in prisons, serving under the chaplain and warden. Arkansas is the 21st state to start this work and the first graduation was in May, 2023. Also, see this video. The Dixie Jackson Offering also helps fund equipment and materials for the faith-based PAL programs.
Finally, you can pray for state prison chaplains, the new field ministers and those in training to become field ministers, volunteers that serve in your local county and city jails and pray for souls. Please pray for the Lord to raise up more people who will take to heart: I was in prison and you came to Me.