Probably the hardest adjustment I ever made was on the world mission field. Imagine needing another adult to show you how to mail a letter. We had to take someone with us to the store because we couldn’t read the labels or ask a clerk. It was so frustrating to be forced to take baby steps. I was grateful to the people who took the time to help me.
Building a life as an independent, productive citizen of the community is difficult for someone who has just been released from prison. It doesn’t have to be that way. People are willing to help with baby steps (finding housing, job search, obtaining a driver’s license, etc.). This creates an opportunity for Christians to show Christian love and compassion. Instead of appearing like a fortress or private club house, the local church can become a place of help and hope. Returning citizens have an alternative to their old life. They may be drawn to the Savior when a Christian mentor reflects Christ’s love through informal conversations and invitations to church.
WELS Prison Ministry has created a training course called “Mentoring Returning Citizens.” Videos and a manual will appear later this month on the Congregational Services website as a compassion ministry training module.
Who should receive this training? Among our church members some mature Christians have a passion to make a difference by mentoring. Some members may have a heart for prison ministry. This course will equip such members through sound instruction.
This mentor training is full of level-headed insights, practical suggestions, and clear direction. Church members who use this information will be amazed at its wisdom. Returning citizens may feel they are taking only baby steps, but gradually they will gain confidence that these are the right baby steps. The instructors share expertise they have gained from experience as part of the Minnesota River Valley Mentoring Program in New Ulm, Minnesota.
Why have we created such high-level training for what some might call a “niche” ministry?
First, WELS Prison Ministry has a successful Bible study program for men and women behind bars. Upon release, some students look for a WELS church to continue their spiritual growth with sound doctrine. We are preparing materials to help them navigate life after incarceration, even when it’s baby steps.
Mentoring is a key part of that process.
Secondly, we have found that ministry to those impacted by incarceration is fruitful and joyful. The Spirit has blessed the Word in our students. We are sure that church members who engage in serving returning citizens will find great spiritual rewards in helping them. We often hear from volunteers that carrying out this ministry is the high point of their week and brings them great joy.
Mentor training will be followed by many more supportive ministry resources. We want to help God’s people demonstrate the grace and wisdom of God to those who return to our communities after incarceration. Individuals could use this training in private, but Prison Ministry hopes to gather interested WELS members together online or in person for even better participation. Who do you know, who might be interested in helping someone through mentoring?
Rev. Jim Behringer
Director, Commission on Special Ministries
You can make a difference. Your prayers and gifts can help WELS ministries carry out their missions.