I first stepped into a high security prison in 2006. The officer at the front gate, with her crew cut hair, tattooed arms and brooding demeanour peered down at me through bi-focal glasses. She curtly asked, “boy, does your mother even know where you are?”! I gulped and unsure as to what to say, politely replied, “yes, but I’ll get a note from her next week if it helps.”
Nearly 12 years on, I can look back with fondness and a sense of accomplishment as to what God has done in the prisons of Queensland, and what small part I’ve had to play in it all.
I might ask if I have been successful, considering the continued growth of prison numbers both inside and on parole and question why is that happening. It is easy to speculate why – but the answers to that are much bigger than chaplaincy alone can provide.
But chaplaincy does play a critical role in answering the big questions! The question that burns in the heart of every person who hears the prison doors clang for the first or 1000th time. How did this happen to me? Why am I here? What does the pathway out begin to look like?
Those answers are not just found in a program of behaviour modification, or a transition plan, nor a longer sentence (albeit, harsher penalties and mandatory sentencing do begin to explain our current predicament), but rather in a person. Perhaps, a person-bearing person.
A chaplain alone, can assist to answer the big questions of meaning, purpose, identity and be the catalyst by whom God’s agent of change – Jesus – comes into the picture. A solution is not offered, but rather, a person. A person – the Christ – who is borne in the heart of a chaplain quietly going through the prisons units and simply rubbing shoulders with those inside. This witnesses to them God’s love, grace, compassion and gives opportunity for tough conversations that perhaps, no one else will ever get to have.
I am incredibly proud of our chaplains and the work that they have done over many years. Their faithfulness and commitment is beyond compare. Tirelessly going into prison week after week, year after year, tilling the soil, sowing the seed, and nurturing the new creation in Christ. Each of them in various stages of life’s journey, willingly sacrificing their time for the sake of those esteemed the least.
I am proud of the work pioneered by Alison and John in seeing people exiting prisons connected into churches. So many people have found new communities of faith and real reasons for sticking with Jesus when everything else has got too big, too hard. I can think of the many men and women who are now progressing in their walk with God as part of Christian churches because of this ministry.
I am excited by the next incarnation of this work and where it is now heading. I am thankful to the support of the committee of management through its many iterations and more recently, the executive support of this ministry as part of Carinity.
Sadly it is time for me to turn the page and to seek God’s direction for myself, Lisa and our children as we together enter into a new ministry as a husband and wife team. I recently had the privilege of sharing with my chaplains, “I came into this ministry as a single man starting out on the journey at Bible College. I leave today a married man, blessed with two beautiful children, a theological degree and a wealth of experience that prepares us for ongoing service in God’s kingdom.”
I am sincerely thankful to you, for your prayerful support and encouragement over many years. Please continue to uphold Inside Out Prison Chaplaincy in prayer, particularly as the next person(s) to lead and coordinate this biblically imperative ministry into the future is sought.
God bless you,