Saturday, July 8, 2017


May 27, 2017 is a day I will always remember; not just because two friends of mine came to the Chapel, here at Union Correctional Institution, but because of what God said to my heart through them.

Jack Murphy, A.K.A. “Murf the Surf,” and Bobby Greenwood are two ex-con’s who go around the world talking about what God has done to them and through them.

Some people still call Murphy and Bobby Inmates-Ex-inmates; “Once an inmate always an Inmate.” That’s a label attached to those who get out. But labels don’t define Murf and Bobby, or me or you. God’s grace defies labels because it is rooted in His love, not our self-perception.

God shows me through Murf and Bobby that I can find hope, healing and freedom in Him. God’s forgiveness defies failure or pride. The Lord is ready and willing to receive us just as we are.

Christian brothers like Murf and Bobby know how to communicate with inmates. God used their trials and suffering to make them more like Him. It’s not surprising that God would use people who have experienced incarceration to reach the incarcerated men and women in our prison system. He comforted them in their time of need now they can comfort others with the cup of comfort that they received.

I’ve known Murf and Bobby since I first came to prison many many years ago. They were a lot different back then. But they changed. God changed them. They learned how to deal with their past. It meant trusting the Lord to protect them and guide them in a world of pain and insecurity.
God loves us and is always with us. We can have confidence that if we live His way to the best of our ability we will endure whatever He allows us to face.

Trust is the biggest issue. Murphy and Bobby trust God completely. They are God’s example to me of what happens when you know God’s goodness, kindness and faithfulness. Trust Him and believe that God has all the answers to your trouble. He will see to it that you will have all you really need to do His will and serve His purpose.

Do you have an impossible dream? Let your faith rise up like an eagle in the sky, believe in your dream, and believe God wants you to have it.
“But those who wait upon the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles
They shall run and not be weary
They shall walk and not faint.”
Isaiah 40:31

Murphy and Bobby are dedicated Christians. They do what they do; go around the world telling inmates about the love of God, because God’s leading them. They love inmates. Why do they love inmates? I find the answer to that question in the Bible. 

“We love because He first loved us.” 
1 John 4:19

I often fail to show that kind of love to others. Yet, Murphy and Bobby inspire me. They show me it can be done and that I can do it. God went first. He sent His Son to demonstrate His love for us. I’m so grateful that He loves me in spite of all the times I’ve let Him down.

He loved me first so I can love others. He created the universe because He loves us and each one of us has a special part to play. He loves us and wants us to show our love for Him by loving others. God takes the empty cups and fills them until they run over.  Let God fill your cup with His love and then give it to others to show Him how much you love Him.

Thank you, Lord, for loving me first and help me to love others.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ten Ways Prison Ministry Promotes Church Growth

by Phil Van Auken, Professor of Management, Baylor University

"I never shared my faith with anyone until I got involved in prison ministry." 
"Prison work taught me the true meaning of forgiveness, repentance, and restoration."
"My prayer life has a new lease on life due to jail ministry."

These comments from recent prison (or jail) ministry volunteers capture some of the joy and spiritual excitement of this strategically important church ministry. The growth of the local church is built on the personal spiritual growth of its members. Prison ministry offers unique, vital opportunities for personal spiritual growth because volunteers get personally involved, even immersed, in the gospel basics: witnessing, Bible teaching, counseling, worship, and encouragement. And when church members catch fire for the Lord, it won’t be long before the church grows.

Let’s explore 10 core impacts Prison ministry can have on the local church and its members:
  1. Prison ministry does wonders for revitalizing the spiritual lives of volunteers (and subsequently their churches). There’s nothing like sharing the gospel to open ears, teaching the Word to thirsty minds, and praying for people with broken hearts to "rev up" one’s spiritual life and commitment. And he newfound spiritual enthusiasm of a prison volunteer is infectious, quickly spreading throughout his or her Sunday school class and friendship network.
  2. Prison ministry breathes new life into church evangelism and outreach programs. Unfortunately many evangelism and visitation programs are either stillborn or impotent because charged up church members experience so few genuine opportunities to share their faith and see God reap the harvest. Doors are shut in their face, invitations rejected, and the same prospect cards endlessly recycled. In prison ministry, by contrast, spiritually hungry inmates come to the Christian volunteer, often in bountiful numbers--and all under the careful supervision and organization of the chaplain’s office!
  3. Prison work can be a real shot in the arm to the Sunday school ministry. Class members can pray for inmates on a personal level, participate in "pen pal" correspondence with recently converted inmates, and pray for and encourage those who actually represent the class "behind the walls." Inmates are invariably deeply moved to know that a whole class is regularly praying for them. (This is the first time many inmates have ever experienced genuine love from anyone.) Some Sunday school classes even "adopt" an inmate’s family in their local area, opening up the vital new arena of compassion ministry.
  4. Prison ministry enhances worship. Many prison volunteers receive a renewed vision for worship while attending church services behind the walls. When repentant Christians of all color meet together to express their love for Christ and joy in being spiritual brothers and sisters, things happen. Prison worship is never characterized by stale routine or manufactured emotion--inmates definitely see themselves as God’s chosen people, not God’s frozen people!
  5. Prison ministry enhances the church training effort by preparing volunteers to minister to the unique needs of incarcerated Christians. What they learn about sharing their faith, counseling Bible study, and follow-up is equally applicable in "free world" ministry. Knowing they will actually utilize these skills upon entering prison makes volunteers attentive, serious learners. The necessary training can be supplied by a prison chaplain, a veteran volunteer, or a prison ministry such as Prison Fellowship or Bill Glass Ministries.
  6. Prison ministry gets church members off the pews and outside church walls. Christians of all backgrounds, education levels, and varieties of spiritual gifts participate in prison/jail ministry. Men and women, young and old, new Christian and "senior saint" all have a place chosen by God to serve. And prison work is never very far away: city and county jails, juvenile detention centers, state and federal prisons, and "halfway houses."
  7. Prison ministry teaches deep spiritual lessons, such as how to forgive, how to restore, and how to really pray (reminding that God does all the work in prison ministry). It also teaches very practical lessons about listening, patience, cross-cultural communication, and theological diversity among Christians.
  8. Prison ministry promotes cooperation and goodwill among diverse Christians from different denominations, socioeconomic backgrounds, and theological points of view. Paul’s admonition to keep our eyes upon Christ was never more true than in prison ministry.
  9. Prison ministry produces new church members and ministry
     Contrary to the worry of some myopic pastors that prison ministry will "steal away" their volunteers, Christians who become active in the spiritual basics of witnessing, spiritual teaching/counseling, and prayer gain a renewed desire to serve their local churches. Many times it is the pastor or staff member who is most revived by contact or personal involvement with prison ministry. Just listen to the testimony of pastors and lay people actively engaged in prison work—there’s always an unmistakable spark of joy and enthusiasm when they share their experiences before the local church.
The Do's of Prison Ministry
  • Do remember that inmates are human beings just like everyone else. The only difference between us and inmates is that "we didn’t get caught for our crimes."
  • Do team up with a least one other person, preferably a group of volunteers, in approaching prison ministry. Christians are to be commended whenever they work together and thus pray with a common spirit and mind.
  • Do show love and respect for all inmates, including those who want nothing to do with "religion" and those who may not give you a kind reception.
  • Do invite and mentor other church members to share in your prison ministry blessings. Sometimes a personalized invitation to get involved is the only thing keeping a church member from participating in prison ministry.
  • Do expect to make a real difference in the lives of prison inmates even if you are not an experienced soul winner or veteran prayer warrior. God equips all Christians to carry on His essential work..
  • Do enlist the support and interest of the church staff for your work in prison ministry, so they won’t feel you have abandoned serving the church. Show them how your involvement in church has revitalized your spiritual life and how it may be the very thing to get "dead wood" church members involved in spiritual ministry for the very first time. 

Above all else, prison ministry is a shower of blessings for all those involved. 
  • You can experience the wonder and joy of leading people to Christ and seeing them start their lives over in ways productive to society and pleasing to God. 
  • You see prayers answered in timely and miraculous ways, strengthening your personal prayer life. 
  • You experience complete dependence on God for ministry success after realizing that nothing lasting happens in prison through purely human effort and striving.
  • You come to understand deep down inside the awful nature and consequences of sin and the unique role of Christ in creating new creatures. 

Prison ministry shows us why indeed we’re all brothers and sisters united in Christ.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Taking Care of Business

AGUSTA, GA - As I reflect back to the early years of my life, I remember vividly getting caught up in the “streets” and all that goes on with that lifestyle. You see I had an absentee dad who was stationed in multiple areas domestic and international throughout my formative years. All of this bodes well for a disaster for a son to not have his father in the guiding and shaping his life in the disciplining and helping him to know who he is as a man. Fast forward to age 29 years old, I was lying in prison facing a 15 year sentence and truly realizing “I wasn’t taking care of business”.

Rebuilding my life after prison was against all odds.What God had revealed to me in this process of being a new believer was that God had given me “natural” talents in working with people in the streets when I was a teenager that I used for evil that God was now going to allow me to use for good (Genesis 50:20).God has been using my gifts to use in street and prison ministry, leadership roles in the community, the trucking industry, and my previous 20 year manufacturing career. He even allowed me to use my natural born talents to win an elected city official position as a minority in a majority African American district representing 20,000 residents in a city of 200,000 people. God has truly given me much, and many opportunities throughout my life!

God has patiently schooled me several key lessons in the subject of of “taking care of HIS business.” While I believe they were targeted specifically for me, a man who had served time, I believe all men and women can benefit from them. He taught me:

Be mindful of how you represent the Lord in all you do, 
and do it all with passion!
  • How to be faithful in following through in my commitments. 
  • Integrity is vital to leading well. 
  • It is essential to be on time, if not early, to work every day to reveal and support intentional integrity. 
  • My having 13 years of perfect attendance demonstrated not only my dependability, it revealed the character of Christ. 
  • Wise choice making leads to prosperity. In choosing to take advantage of opportunities present, such as overtime offered on the job, my financial stability increased, serving as a witness that it is important to God that we not be a slave to lenders. Proverbs 22:7.
  • The importance of transparency in our role as leaders, especially when serving in an official government position. After all, you are "on stage" with an entire city watching to see if you, a self-proclaimed Christian will compromise or remain true to your character. 
  • Lastly, to take advantage of every opportunity to help the poor, especially in our own communities.

Now, after several years in the commercial real estate industry, I can look back and see how God has used every aspect of my life to bring me to this very point in time. What an honor it is to work and live in the very city that has witnessed the Lord transform my life from prisoner to passion-filled community leader. He has caused me to see first hand that in the end, it is all about His glory being revealed and increasing in relationship to know Him more fully.

I am very excited to be going into 2016-2017 with increased opportunities, a great career, a wonderful church family, a very supportive wife and a daughter who is a true prayer warrior!

Matt Aitken
Sherman & Hemstreet Real Estate Company

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Humanity is Brave

photo by Ivy and Tweed

In my role as COPE Exec. Dir. I have been introduced to so many good books, members who want to share theirs or tell me of another's. I can't possibly read them all, but my desire is to read more of them, not because of the prison interest alone, but because they are someone's "story".
This brief window into John Swanger's story is great read, and if it is anything like his book, "Shackled: Confessions of a teenage Bank Robber" I must have it!

Executive Director, COPE

Hired, Fired, or Wired

My "Verse-A-Day"  

My key words for today are spirituality, humility, and joy. First things first. Spirituality. I grab my prison bible and my phone to read today's verse from the app "Verse-A-Day". 

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not a shepherd and does not own sheep, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and runs away. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. Because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep, he runs away.  John 10:11-13

While meditating on the words, I begin to think about human behavior, the action of running away and the impact it has on those that remain. 

If we don't run as a result of their actions, we want to. We wish we could. 

Yes, as the leader of a people, an organization, or mission, we've been hiredBut as believers in Christ, we've been fired. Fired from our old ways of doing things. We don't just get to walk away at the first sign of trouble. In fact, we're now wired anew. Able and equipped to respond differently. Whether leader or follower, paid or volunteer, we are new creatures in Christ! (II Cor. 5:17) And we are to be imitators of Him. Eph. 5:1 

So how did the Good Shepherd respond when trouble raised its ugly head? John 10: 11 says He laid down His life. You don't need to be a bible scholar to know He didn't go kicking and screaming... He did it with humility. Word #2 for the day.

Thoughts of the cross and Jesus death takes me back to the garden. The place where Jesus laid down His will and died to his wants, so that He could lead by example. 

The only way to respond to hard matters and attacks is to spend time in the garden. To get away to a place where we feel safe enough to take off our armor (pride of position and evidence of past victories) and lie vulnerable before a transforming God who can infuse us with the purpose of mission. The higher calling. The joy set before us. (Heb. 12:2-3) His will, not ours, to go on.

I love how the Message bible says it. 

"Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls.

That is exactly what I need, adrenaline! Liquid energy, coursing through my veins. 

This mornings trip to the garden delivered a healthy dose of purpose, cleared my vision, and provided joy that I would have the supernatural energy needed to not only cross the finish line, but Shepherd well.

After all, I've been hired, fired, and wired for this!

by Chandra Adams
Executive Director, COPE