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What is good news to those who are in prison?

Pastor Tim Bode, Chris Dreisbach, and Pastor Darren Green prepare to go into St. Cloud Correctional Facility to minister there to inmates through word and music. Photo provided by Darren Green

Becoming a volunteer for prison ministry in the Minnesota prison system requires background checks and three-hour trainings. It is not necessarily for the faint of heart.

But it does put one in a good position for spending time with inmates. Unlike the chaplains, inmates recognize that the volunteers are not getting compensated for the time they spend at the prison. It means that volunteers can build a different kind of relationship with inmates. Some of the barriers can be chipped away at, and even maybe broken down.

The choice to be a volunteer prison minister was not easy for the Rev. Darren Green, pastor at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS), Monticello, Minnesota. He felt God’s call to minister to those in the prison system. But, to do this work, he must be considered a volunteer.

As a volunteer, however, he cannot also be on a prisoner’s visitor list. And Darren’s brother resides at the Lino Lakes prison.

Darren had a decision to make. He followed his calling.

Finding freedom in Christ

These days he shares responsibilities with three other WELS pastors and two laypeople for Tuesday evening visits with inmates at the St. Cloud Correctional Facility.

Green, a very unassuming young man, believes that many prisoners live with a great deal of shame.

Green started the Bible study with the help of the prison’s chaplain. Each Minnesota prison has a chaplain that overseas religious programming — whether for Christians, Muslims, traditionalists, or others — for all the prisoners in that jail.

“In general, the prisoners come because we offer Bible study,” Green told Metro Lutheran. “They have to sign up in advance to come, and we can get anywhere from four to twenty, with about ten or twelve as the average.”

Green said the studies are often fairly similar to ones he would do in his congregation. The prisoners frequently have questions, he said, “but inmates often help each other find answers.

“I strive to share with them the certainty of salvation. I get them into God’s word,” he explained.

He agreed that he often has theological conversations in the prison that rival or exceed those he has in church. “When you talk about freedom in Christ with inmates, they really listen,” Green concluded.

A captive audience

Obviously, inmates have done something and been caught; that is why they are in prison. “I want them to know that we all have guilt as sinners, but theirs is more obvious because of the incarceration,” Green explained. “They know they did it; I want to help them learn how to deal with the consequences.”

Green is very taken with Colossians 1. He said prisoners are concerned with how they stand before God.

“I tell them that Christ did all for us, and now we stand ‘free from accusation,’ as it says in Colossians.” Green tells them, “The devil shows up with your rap sheet. But God has cleaned it.

“They are almost always affected to hear that through Christ, their sins are forgiven; that how we choose to live in that knowledge is important.”

Green, a very unassuming young man, believes that many prisoners live with a great deal of shame. It is good news to them that they don’t have to carry that shame any longer. In that way, Green believes, they are closer to realizing God’s grace than many of those whose prisons are less obvious.

Green is sensitive to the inmates themselves. Perhaps it is because he can see them all as his brothers … even as he can’t see his own.

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