NASHVILLE, Tenn.–– The General Commission on UM Men has forged a partnership with DISCIPLE Bible Outreach Ministries of North Carolina in order to bring DISCIPLE Bible study to prisons across the U.S.
Meeting, September 9-13, the 21-member board approved an agreement with the Rev. Mark Hicks, executive director of North Carolina’s DISCIPLE Bible Outreach Ministries.
The mission of the ministry is “Making disciples through Bible study to bring God's grace to a hurting world,” said Hicks.
Hicks has been leading DISCIPLE program in correctional settings since 1999, and he says the studies are transformational for both volunteers and prison participants.
“I was always excited by the possibility of transformation among the inmates,” Hicks said, “but I’m equally excited by the transformation occurring in our volunteers, and as a result, our churches.” Hicks has also created a program for juvenile offenders that is currently being used in every Youth Development Center in North Carolina.
“I was involved in a prison ministry weekend at a maximum security prison in Texas,” said Gil Hanke, top staff executive of the commission. “That experience changed my whole perspective and perception of prisons and the need for our engagement in this vital ministry. I believe that Jesus’ list of places of service (Matthew 25:31-46), is all inclusive and ongoing. If I give to a food pantry or clothes closet once, I don’t think that fulfills Jesus’ request; I’m not off the hook. I don’t think we can pick one from that list that is the easiest or most comfortable for us. Jesus directs us to where the need is greatest and we should be obedient.”
“My DISCIPLE Bible study class represented love to me,” said a North Carolina prison inmate. “It is a blessing for me to know that God loves me. In the group there was no inmate feeling. When we studied the word everybody had value. When you're sitting on the other side of the wall, you need all the encouragement you can get.”
“For the last five months I have been involved in the DISCIPLE program. My time could not have been spent any better doing anything else. This class has enabled me to deal with my circumstances better and find answers to live my life with peace and love.
I have come to know the Lord better, and am convinced that He is greater now than ever before. It is my prayer that the DISCIPLE course will continue to grow throughout the prison system.”
Hicks offers the following guidelines for beginning the ministry:
• DISCIPLE prison ministry requires careful planning and approval from both the local church and the agency sponsoring the ministry, as well as from the prison authorities where the studies will take place.
• Prisons require volunteers to complete an application form and submit to a criminal background check prior to approval as a volunteer.
• The scheduling of a time and place for the study, the recruitment of inmates for classes, and the ongoing supervision of prisoners will require the help and cooperation of correctional staff.
• In prisons where there is a chaplain on staff, you’ll want to coordinate your activities through this person. It is important to develop a relationship with the prison chaplain and to respect his or her authority as the person responsible for the spiritual needs of the inmate population.
• In prison, the DISCIPLE program operates much as it does in the local church. However, be aware that you are in a controlled environment. Respect those responsible for your safety. There are times when your class will be interrupted for security reasons or affected by other issues unique to correctional settings.
• To be involved in prison ministry, you must agree to follow all training procedures, rules, and regulations mandated by the prison or the sponsoring church or agency.
Beyond these specific issues and suggestions, be aware that a DISCIPLE prison ministry will only be effective if you and your group have planned for the long term. The prison authorities—especially the chaplain—need to trust that your church or conference is making a continuing commitment. Your initial plan should include which units of Disciple you’re going to lead after the first one, how soon after you’ve finished the first unit you plan to start the second, and who is committed to teaching not just the first unit, but the second and third units as well.
Recruiting the initial group of participants from the prison population will require laying some groundwork. If a church is already engaged in a mentoring or pen-pal ministry at the prison, then participants in those programs can become part of the core group. Barring that, look for a pastor in your area who regularly visits the prison, and ask his or her help in recruiting participants.
DISCIPLE Bible materials are available at Cokesbury bookstores (www.Cokesbury.com). In addition, Bishop Richard Wilke has provided a booklet of questions and activities for men based on DISCIPLE II; that study is available in the resource section of www.GCUMM.org (UM Men DISCIPLE Bible Supplement).
The North Carolina-based ministry and the commission are seeking $5,000 for each pilot project in up to eight states. Some states have been tentatively selected, but this partnership should be viewed as an open door for interested groups to participate.
For more information contact Hanke (email@example.com) or Hicks (MCHicks@northstate.net).