Faith in the Big House–Film Review

This documentary film seeks to answer the question — do Prison ministries reduce the recidivism rate of convicts who have been released? There are snippets of interviews with the late Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries juxtaposed with comments by Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans for the Separation of Church and State.

Lynn, a UCC pastor, criticized statistics cited by Colson and others claiming that religious ministries were helpful in deterring released convicts from a return to criminal behavior. He did not, however, explain in any detail what was lacking in the studies — he simply claimed that statistics had been “manipulated.” Colson admitted that while recidivism rates were initially lowered, after ten years most inmates had relapsed. This indicates a need for continuing follow-up by churches with ministering to them.

Lynn also intimated that prison systems were turning to religious ministries as a “free” substitute for educational and vocational training which was more important in helping those released adapt to life outside the prison.

Most interesting to me were scenes from a retreat called, R. E. C. (Residents Encounter Christ), which took place in a Louisiana prison. The three-day retreat was obviously based on the Cursillo method used by Catholics, Lutherans (Via de Cristo), Methodists (Walk to Emmaus) and other denominations. There were talks, table discussions, letters from Sunday School students to the inmates, and other similarities.

VERDICT: 3 STARS. This is a topic which really couldn’t be covered in one hour.

For more about Lutheran Via de Cristo see these posts:

Via de Cristo

The Importance of a Team Member

A Spanish Birthday Song?

Unexpected Harvest by Scott Stroud–Book Review

This book was given out free at the AFLC Conference. My husband and I took a copy, and he has written this review.

In Matthew 25 Jesus speaks of the last judgment when all people will be divided into 

sheep (those being saved) and the goats (those who are not saved).  In that discussion 

the Lord lists things which were done to Him, He was fed and clothed and visited by 

those He calls sheep.  They respond they don’t remember doing things to Him, but He 

says whenever you do it to the least of these, you do it to me.  The goats are told their 

failure to do these things was their downfall.  One of the things Jesus mentions is 

visiting “Him” in prison.   

It safe to say that not many people feel called to minister to those who are incarcerated 

for their crimes.  And that’s alright, not everyone is called to do everything.  But if 

you have felt a tug toward ministry to prisoners, or if you’d like to learn something about 

what it entails, I recommend you read a book called Unexpected Harvest by AFLC 

pastor Scott Stroud.  If God is calling you to this ministry, he gives valuable advice on 

how to navigate all of the streams involved from relationships with guards, to rules set 

by prisons, to dealing with the special need of prisoners for a relationship with Jesus.  If 

you simply want to know more about it, Stroud gives information that might open your 

eyes to a ministry seldom viewed or discussed by most Christians. 

An engaging writer, Stroud using farming as an analogical tool for understanding prison 

and jail ministry.  It’s interesting, even if you know little to nothing about farming.  The 

author also uses Scripture frequently and appropriately to show how this evangelistic 

ministry should be formed and guided by the Word of God.  It would be a good 

candidate for a small group study or for a men’s group.  Who knows how God might use 

it to open up a ministry prepared beforehand for someone to walk in. (Eph.2:10) 

This book is available through Amazon both for the Kindle or as a paperback.  You can 

also order it through the Evangelism and Discipleship Dept. of the AFLC at 3110 East 

Medicine Lake Blvd., Plymouth, MN. 55441. 

For more book reviews see these posts:

Faith In God by Kevin McFadden –Book Review

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt–Book Review

Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution by Tony Merida–Book Review

The Gravity of Joy by Angela Williams Gorrell–Book Review

Angela Williams Gorrell was hired by Yale University to work on the Theology of Joy and the God Life project.  Shortly thereafter, she experienced three traumatic deaths of people close to her:  her cousin’s husband committed suicide;  her young adult nephew died suddenly due to a cardiac arrest;  her father died after years of opioid addiction.  Research and teaching about joy became difficult.  This was certainly an opportunity to grow through challenging circumstances!

Through volunteering to lead Bible studies in a women’s prison, Angela begins to see that joy and sorrow, grief and rejoicing can coexist. Working with these women who are imprisoned, who often have suicidal thoughts, who struggle with addiction, she still notices their moments of real joy.

“Because joy is God, because it is what you feel while being ministered to, it can always find you.”

It is possible to be in the midst of grief, and at the same time experience the joy of looking forward in hope.  Joy seemed to flow from loving relationships, and despair from loneliness and isolation.

“Joy is a counteragent to despair because it can be sustained and sustain us, even when standing right next to suffering.”

She compares times of mourning to the Saturday before Easter.  It is a time of in between. 

“The majority of the time in our lives is spent living on Saturday, in the space between death on Friday and the indescribably joy of Sunday morning.”

This memoir-like book will appeal to anyone dealing with the challenges of grief, especially grief related to a tragic or unexpected death.  It is an open and honest exploration of one person’s journey out of deep sorrow.  At the end there is an epilogue that includes resources for those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, or addiction.  There is also some current information about work that is being done to  educate people about these issues and prevent untimely deaths.

The author ends by saying:

“I hope you will join in the important work of reducing suicide, healing addiction, and changing the prison system. I hope you will create and nurture a community that focuses on understanding, recalling, and being open to joy.”

VERDICT:  5 STARS.  I read it in one day.

For more on the topic of grief see:

The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor–Book Review

I Still Believe–Movie Review

Dark Clouds Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop–Book Review

Is This a Christian Book?

I just finished reading John Grisham’s latest novel, The Guardians.  Like his other books, this one is a bestseller and a commercial success.  I would maintain that it is also a Christian novel, and it will influence many like the leaven in the bread( see The Rub.)

If you do some research on John Grisham, you will find that he is a Christian and makes no secret of his beliefs.  The protagonist in The Guardians is also a Christian.  Cullen Post was once a lawyer, quit the law to follow his calling to become an Episcopal priest, and currently works for Guardian Ministries, an organization dedicated to exonerating prisoners who have been unjustly imprisoned.  It’s not full of biblical references, miracles or deep theology.  It does portray an individual Christian, living out his faith quietly in an authentic way.

Cullen works for a pittance of what he could earn as a lawyer, or even as a minister.  In the eyes of the world, he would be seen as foolish.  Yet, he reminds me of the apostle Paul, content with whatever he has.  He rubs shoulders with all kinds of people — lawyers and judges, ex-cons and liars, rich and poor.  He is able to identify and interact with each one by using his own experiences.  He doesn’t judge and he follows his calling to:

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body”  Hebrews 13:3

This novel mentions prayer in a positive way, and guess what — no bad language!  Proving that we really don’t need that stuff to write a successful book that will appeal to all kinds of people.  (You may remember this is one of my pet peeves Joan’s Pet Peeve).

Maybe some will feel that Grisham sells out, because his novels don’t constantly remind you that they are Christian.  Personally, I think the best kind of Christian book is one that appeals to many and guides them toward Christ.  Who knows, some may read The Guardians and ask, what makes somebody give up their life to save others?  I hope so.  I give it 5 stars.




Forgiveness Restores

I read a book recently called Forgiving My Daughter’s Killer.  The title says it all.  It is the true story of a family who forgave the young man who killed their daughter.  He was her fiancé and he shot her during a quarrel.  Her parents not only forgave him, they participated in process called restorative justice.  I had never heard of this before, but basically rather than a trial, where the defendant is discouraged from even acknowledging any wrong doing and the victims get no opportunity to understand what truly happened, there is a meeting at which open dialogue between everyone involved is allowed.  The victims are able to make their feelings known and recommend a sentence;  the person who committed the crime is given an opportunity to make restitution.  In Conor’s case this process led to a shorter sentence (20 years rather than 25-life) and he and his fiancé’s parents were able to talk honestly about the events that led up to the shooting.  Although there can be no true restitution for the loss of a loved one, he also agreed to volunteering and supporting St. Francis Wildlife Association, which was a cause dear to the heart of the victim.  They continue to visit him.

Kate Grosmaire, the mother who wrote the book, says:

“Forgiveness is not the first instinct, nor is it an easy path.  It’s a decision that says you believe the Bible when it says that vengeance belongs to God.”

She also admits that forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation.  It is not saying “Yes, you may hurt me again.”  It does not require ignoring the offense.  It is not a pardon.  However she says forgiveness is “a refuge:  a place where broken people can come for healing, where the guilty can come for relief, where the wronged can come for hope…. (it) is a process, a way of life.”

I really recommend this book.  Let us know if you read it and what you think.





Dead Man Walking

I remember watching this film years ago and then reading the book by Sister Helen Prejean.  It is a wonderful depiction of Christian forgiveness and empathy for a person many would consider unforgivable. The movie is pretty graphic, but I would definitely recommend the book.  Her statement that none of us would want to be remembered by the worst thing we had ever done is a challenging thought.


Dead Man Walking

In 1982, Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun, started corresponding with a death row inmate in Angola Prison in Louisiana. The experience changed the direction of her ministry and propelled her into activism against the death penalty. Tim Robbins has taken material from her book Dead Man Walking and reshaped it into one of the most inspiring and positive portraits of Christian ministry ever put on film. Susan Saradon won an Academy Award for her luminous portrait of Sister Helen Prejean.

Dead Man Walking (1995) presents a rounded and riveting look at the life and work of this nun who demonstrates the spiritual practices of listening, forgiveness, and compassion with a death row prisoner and with the parents of his victims. This unforgettable film exposes the cruelty of death by lethal injection and offers instead an alternate path based on love. It also shows that hate is the worst prison of all.

This film runs 122 minutes and is rated R for a depiction of rape and murder. For a review of the film and a plot synopsis, click here.