Redemption Thrives in this Indiana Prison Ministry Program
Redemption is the action of being saved from sin, error, or evil – something all of us need.
For those who are incarcerated, redemption is every bit valuable and useful, but may be harder to attain. Prisons can be make or break places, and not all of them offer avenues for rising from the ashes.
One jail in Indiana is helping inmates change their lives through the power of Jesus Christ.
Residents Encounter Christ (REC) is an inter-denominational Christian ministry for prisoners at the Bartholomew County Jail. It’s based on the Cursillo movement – a sort of informal spiritual retreat first developed in Spain.
The uniqueness of Bartholomew’s REC is that it wasn’t initiated by local pastors or lay workers, but by the prison’s very own sheriff, Matt Myers.
“You really have to have buy-in with the staff,” said Jamie Evans, media manager. “We bring in a team of 30 people for four days, so if your sheriff is on board that makes things easier.”
Unlike some prison ministries that offer intimate one-on-one ministry, REC meets in a group setting.
The program is conducted by both clergy and lay workers on weekends twice a year – one session for men, another for women – followed by regular weekly meetings to support participants in ongoing spiritual growth and community building.
Volunteers share stories of Christ’s unconditional love through talks, round-table discussions and prayer. Up to 50 people gather for each, of which around 20 attend follow-up classes every week throughout the year.
Those involved know that participants are encountering Christ even while incarcerated.
“I do know for some of the inmates it’s changed their lives,” said Tyler Stillabower, captain. “(Inmates) went to this program, they went to classes, they got out, they went into rehab and have joined into the REC family. I do see a difference and it affects some of them.”
Participants encounter an intense weekend filled with hope and a better tomorrow. They hear about the love of Jesus Christ – some for the first time – and are met by volunteers who hold no judgement on them or their offenses.
They’re given love and understanding that they might not have received in years – perhaps ever.
“A lot of people incarcerated have burned bridges with friends and family,” said Evans. “We help them to get into healthy relationships and they aren’t condemned. Maybe they can change their path and change those generations after them.”
Part of the other purpose, Evans believes, is to continually develop relationships with others, foster a sense of community and build trust over time. In a mere two years, her team has had over 800 encounters fostered through over 40,000 volunteer hours – all followed by intense transformation in participants.
“They change over a course of a year,” Evans said. “When they hit the streets I can see truth into their lives.”