We are living in a day where it back. In prison, the matters are approved and experienced to criminals are being incarcerated on a daily basis. According to the United States Department of Justice, approximately 1.5 million people were incarcerated in state and federal prison systems in 2013. Most of these people face tough sentences for their crimes, and will be locked up for a majority of their lives. Inevitably, these inmates are viewed as outcasts by society, and many feel forsaken during their separation from loved ones. Prison is a place where the incarcerated experience a significant loss because everything they had on the outside is taken away. Some don’t know if they will ever get of life and death are intensified, and the search for purpose seems unreachable. Hence the reason there is a great need to reach the lost who are behind bars.
Throughout the Inland Empire, there are multiple Christian organizations that visit jails and prisons. One of these ministries is the prison ministry at Harvest Christian Fellowship, under the leadership of associate pastor Aaron Adame. Every week, several dedicated members get together with prison ministry director, Ted Jenkins, and visit jails in Riverside County. What they do is special.
Jenkins leads a team of fifteen seasoned believers who share the gospel with inmates. “What we do is go into the jails and provide a Bible study. At the end of our time together, we make sure to ask anyone if they want to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.” Jenkins sends his teams in pairs for safety and security; men with men, women with women. Each Bible study meeting is around 60-90 minutes. Once everyone is gathered together, they begin their Bible study and end with an opportunity for inmates to make a profession of faith.
What makes this ministry special is the goal of the Bible study, which is to teach biblical truth so inmates know that God personally cares about them. Jenkins adds, “The most important thing we want inmates to know is that there is a Father in heaven who loves them more than we can explain.” Inmates hear the gospel, receive prayer and counseling, and leave with a sense of comfort knowing someone cares about them and will be praying for them. Jenkins wants their ministry to make a life-changing impact.
Many people might not understanding why someone would go into a jail to minister to inmates. Some believe those behind bars deserve to be left alone to reap what they sowed, and that inmates deserve the hard justice that has been dealt to them, and nothing more. Although that may be true, it’s important to remember that God is all about forgiveness and redemption for all people, specifically criminals. Jenkins says, “All inmates have earned the right to be there without question, but these inmates are still creations of God. They are still people, and the Bible’s story is about God’s love. As it says in Matthew 25, we are called to minister to the least of these. To me, those in the jails are the least of the least. They are the ones that need hope the most because they have lost their homes, families, and jobs. Most of them will never get out again.”
Jenkins explains that his perspective for this ministry did not come to him naturally, but rather by the Holy Spirit. He didn’t simply wake up one day and say, “I want to do prison ministry!” Instead, God put it on his heart and opened a door of opportunity for him. This enabled him to share with inmates the greatest story of forgiveness and redemption ever told.
One of the inmates who previously attended Harvest’s prison ministry gatherings was significantly impacted by Jenkins and his team. Adam Pursell, 26, married with two kids, went to one of the Bible studies when he was serving time behind bars. During a Bible study Jenkins was teaching, Pursell told him, “See you in two weeks.” Jenkins was use to hearing things like this from inmates, so he didn’t think too much about it. Several weeks later, Jenkins and his family are coming out of a service at Harvest when they were approached by a young man. Greeting Jenkins with a big hug, Pursell said, “I told you I would see you!”
When Pursell was released from jail, he started attending Harvest as his home church. His life started to radically change. When asked about the impact of Harvest’s prison ministry, Pursell commented, “Prison has so many negative elements, so when the positive elements were introduced in Ted’s Bible study, it helped me and other inmates think about changing our ways, and to go down a better path.” Pursell experience firsthand the importance of prison ministry. Pursell notes, “It’s cool. I didn’t know what church I was going to go to once I get out of jail, so I went to where Ted was. Once you are locked up, you are ready for that change and next step. When someone comes and shares with you the truth of God’s Word to give you hope, it makes you think about what you are going to do with your life. As I look back, I can see how God was building a bridge and opening up a door for me to have the necessary accountability and discipleship I needed to get back on my feet and follow Christ.” Today, Pursell serves as a men’s ministry group leader and is involved in other ministries with his family.
If you think about it, we are all in a type of imprisonment. The Bible declares we are all slaves to our own sin and deserve the just penalty for being rebellious towards God (Romans 3:9-20). Yet, Jesus Christ came to die for the ungodly in order to forgive all sins and provide eternal life for those who would believe in him (Romans 5:8; Galatians 3:22-23). Jesus has come to set all of us free from the imprisonment of sin, and give us the opportunity to restore our lives (2 Cor. 5:17). It reads in Psalm 107:13- 14, “Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces.” God promises to save sinners. God wants us to cry out to him in our trouble. God can save all criminals because the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
Ted Jenkins goes to the jails to let inmates know there is a God in heaven who wants to break their chains of sin and give them freedom in Christ. Adam Pursell was one of these inmates, and now he has the testimony to go into the jails and do the same thing to reach the lost behind bars. Prison ministry may not be for everyone, but it is a necessary ministry for some.
If you are interested about serving in the prison ministry at Harvest, you can contact Ted Jenkins at (951) 236-9800 for more information.
Jesus in Jail