You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1).
With these words, the Apostle Paul challenges his young protégé, Timothy, not to grow weary or weak as he endures for the sake of the gospel and the church in Ephesus. The church at this time was experiencing heavy persecution from the Ephesian culture around it, which had little interest in the gospel. But the church was also facing pressure from inside in the form of false teachers. The church, and Timothy, was pressed on all sides.
Put yourself in Timothy’s shoes. Your mentor, who happens to be the Apostle Paul, is in prison and about to be executed for the sake of the gospel. You’re about thirty years old, which was when you would begin ministry in those days. You’re being asked to guard the true gospel, to reason against false teachers, and to teach the people of the church in patience and wisdom, even when they don’t want to hear from you.
A couple of weeks of that and most of us would want to quit; just walk away and let someone else deal with it.
Paul knew Timothy would face this temptation, so he told him to draw strength from the only lasting source—the grace of Jesus.
Books with well-written stories have the power to unlock a child’s God-given imagination and create deep bonds between the child and their parent—even if that parent is behind bars.
In Prison Fellowship’s Storybook Dads program at the Carol S. Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas, incarcerated men have the opportunity to connect with their children by recording and sending audio of them reading aloud to their children. The program started in 2008 as part of the Prison Fellowship Academy. Prisoners operate the program with the oversight of staff and volunteers.
Here’s how Storybook Dads works. Men enter a recording studio inside the prison at a scheduled time, choose from one of the many donated children’s books, then sit down in front of a microphone and read with enthusiasm. The dads are coached when necessary and encouraged often. Volunteer prisoners man the sound equipment and later enhance the recordings with sound effects.
Brandy’s father died when she was 12, leaving her mother to raise Brandy and her sisters alone.
“She was away a lot, just trying to cope with my father’s death,” Brandy says. “That left us [kids] to figure things out on our own.”
Brandy used that freedom to explore drugs, drinking, and rough crowds. She was in and out of romantic relationships, many of which became abusive.
After several moves around the country, she ended up in Michigan in her late 30s, where she gave birth to her daughter Amanda*. Brandy got involved with notoriously violent motorcycle clubs and began dating a man who belonged to one. This pairing proved to be the most dangerous in a string of bad relationships.
The man’s violent tendencies “started escalating quickly,” Brandy says. The abuse came to a head that fateful day when he pointed the gun at her face, and she turned it on him.
Everyone you know—including your Christian friends—has been seduced by the siren song: “Be true to yourself.”
David Kinnaman has said that seventy-six percent of practicing Christians in the U.S. now think the best version of themselves can be found by looking inside.
Studies show that each generation in America is more anxious and depressed than the last. Suicide rates are skyrocketing even though we have more doctors and treatments available than ever. We’re looking inside for meaning, but finding emptiness instead.
As believers, time spent searching our hearts for truth and meaning numbs us to what it means to live like Jesus, who says we can’t follow him unless we deny ourselves.
Rev. Aaron Johnson was tough. After all, he had survived being beaten and dragged from a segregated dime-store lunch counter. But it was the plight of prisoners in North Carolina that brought him to tears.
He had worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights movement. He held the position of Secretary of Corrections in his state. All of this prepared him for the moment in 1990, when he pleaded with Prison Fellowship’s leadership team to help him reach prisoners with the Gospel.
As told in his autobiography, Man from Macedonia, Rev. Johnson opened his mouth to start his appeal, but tears came instead. Moments later, the entire leadership team was weeping with him over the hopeless state of so many prisoners around the country.
When his voice returned, he said, “I am the man from Macedonia, and I’ve come to ask for your help.”
Echoing the Apostle Paul’s vision of a man in Macedonia begging him to come and help, Johnson’s request for in-prison evangelism sounded straightforward but enormous. He wanted to reach every prisoner in North Carolina with the Gospel—in just one week.
But could Rev. Johnson and Prison Fellowship pull off such an audacious plan?