Let brotherly love continue… 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: 1, 3 ESV)
Every week, Lutheran pastors and lay people pass through security into the 1,500+ prisons scattered throughout the United States. They come armed with only one defense: the Word of God.
It can be an intimidating task to share the Gospel with those in prison. Yet Jesus considered it such an important ministry that He specifically directs His followers to provide this care (Matthew 25).
“Detainees find freedom in the Word of God,” said Rev. Karl Heimer, an LCMS pastor who also serves El Paso Detention Center in Texas. “I see a great need for these people to learn about Jesus Christ and the magnificent love that changes hearts.”
One challenge to sharing Christ’s love with prisoners is that many of them don’t speak English, and there aren’t good Christian materials available in their own languages. Books like LHF’s Spanish Bible with Small Catechism open the doors of communication with the inmates.
“It’s important for the men to have the Bible in their own language so that they can read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Word of God at will,” explained Rev. G. Robert Heimgartner, another LCMS pastor who serves at two prisons in Illinois.
Though Rev. Heimgartner has needed Bibles and catechisms in Chinese, Polish and Japanese, the greatest need is for the Spanish Bible with Small Catechism.
Because the catechism’s pages are a different color from the Scripture pages in the book, Rev. Heimgartner said, “it’s very noticeable to me that the inmates read the catechism’s pages frequently while waiting for classes to start.”
The Bibles are given to the inmates, free of charge, to take with them whether they are sentenced, deported or released. Revs. Heimer and Heimgartner also provide counseling and prayer for the inmates, stressing the importance of the Biblical roles of husband, father and son.
Rev. Heimer reflected that of all the different Bibles available to the detainees at the El Paso center, LHF’s Spanish Bible with Small Catechism is the only one prisoners specifically ask for.
“Inmates really appreciate the catechism. They see it as a guide to understanding the Bible, and it’s easier for them to locate certain aspects of faith, doctrine and beliefs,” he said.
“We only get about an hour each week to be with the inmates,” explained Rev. Heimgartner. “Because they won’t be at this facility long, most of their study of God’s Word will be a ‘self-study’ format. It’s very beneficial to have the question and answer format of the catechism that addresses everyday life situations and questions to the Word of God.
“It also helps with counseling each inmate in their personal struggles that they are dealing with. The catechism also gives them a source for family devotions when they are reunited with their families, following God’s teachings as the responsibilities of the father and husband to be the head of the household,” Rev. Heimgartner concluded.
Both pastors believe that the Bibles and catechisms provided by LHF make an important difference in the spiritual and day-to-day lives of the prisoners.
“You see the Holy Spirit really working in the lives of the inmates, how their attitudes and hearts change as we visit them every Saturday,” Rev. Heimer said. “This is very encouraging, because we know this is a real and urgent need, but there are not a lot of pastors serving the jail population.”
In addition to more people to witness the faith, more Bibles and catechisms are also urgently needed in the languages of the prisoners. Though each pastor orders several cases of Spanish Bibles with Small Catechism every few months, the supply is quickly claimed. Due to the continued high demand, LHF plans to reprint this book early in 2013.
When studying Scripture and the catechism, Rev. Heimgartner says he focuses on Paul’s epistles, with the prayer that the inmates can see the faith Paul had even while he was imprisoned.
“We emphasize that it is by God’s grace that we are all saved, and that all Christians who repent are forgiven ‘as far as the East is from the West,’ ” he explained. “All who are forgiven are truly free in Christ.”
Only with your help can this important work continue. Prayerfully consider how you can help support LHF projects.