Photo: Mark Hicks, executive director of DISICIPLE Bible Outreach Ministries of North Carolina
FRANKLIN, Tenn. –– Representatives from three annual conferences agreed to recruit and train persons to take DISCIPLE Bible Study to 14 Tennessee State Prisons housing 20,000 inmates.
The action was taken by representatives from the Tennessee, Memphis and Holston Annual Conferences, meeting Feb. 15 at Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin.
The effort to introduce the 34-week study into Tennessee prisons is coordinated by Mark Hicks, executive director of DISCIPLE Bible Outreach Ministries of North Carolina, and Gil Hanke, top staff executive of the Nashville-based General Commission on United Methodist Men.
Hicks, who has been leading the DISCIPLE program in correctional settings since 1999, says the studies are transformational for both volunteers and inmates. “I was always excited by the possibility of transformation among the inmates,” said Hicks. “But I’m equally excited by the transformation occurring in our volunteers and, as a result, our churches.”
“I was involved in a prison ministry weekend at a maximum security prison in Texas,” said Hanke. “That experience changed my whole perspective and perception of prisons and the need for our engagement in this vital ministry.”
“There is a great need for transitional training,” said Jerry Welborn, chaplain and volunteer coordinator for Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. He celebrated the prison ministry of Christ United Methodist Church, which conducts services and studies in Riverbend.
Jerry Nail, one of the leaders of the prison ministry at the Franklin church, showed a video that described the beginnings of the prison ministry seven years ago. The church conducts Sunday services, a DISCIPLE Bible Study, a pen-pal ministry, and a re-entry program.
In the video, Marcus Hamilton, 35, an inmate locked up at age 17 and recently released, said there are many things a ex-inmate needs that others don’t think about such as clothing, a driver’s license, health insurance and a job. Christ Church provides former inmates with clothing, $1,000, a connection with an employment agency and friendship. A dozen ex-inmates now worship at the church.
Ron Turner, director of religious services for all state prisons, said the state requires a review of the proposed curriculum, but he thought the study produced by the United Methodist Publishing House would be quickly approved. He took a copy of DISCIPLE I and the accompanying video with him following the meeting. He thought the study could help reduce recidivism. “We can’t keep locking people up,” said Turner. “We must teach them how to succeed when they get out.” He noted that the national recidivism rate is 70 percent, but it is less than 50 percent in Tennessee.
The General Commission on United Methodist Men and DISCIPLE Bible Outreach are launching the effort in six states: North Carolina, Virginia, Kansas, Tennessee, Baltimore-Washington, and Georgia. In each state, Hicks recommends the creation of separate state organizations to recruit and train volunteers and to raise funds. Those state organizations will be trained and supported by a national steering committee.
The group discussed the possibility of ministering to training centers for youth and decided they would focus early efforts on state prisons before beginning ministries with youth.
Hicks will lead a training experience for persons interested in leading a DISCIPLE Bible Outreach on Sept.30-October 1. The Friday evening session will train persons who have never lead a DISCIPLE Bible Study, and the Saturday session will train all persons to lead the study in prisons.
For additional information, contact Hicks (MCHIcks@northstate.net) (www.disciplebibleoutreach.org).