I had a friend mention to me that she was considering becoming a pen pal to someone in prison.
“Someone you know?” I said.
“No,” she said. “I just did a search online and found several Christian-affiliated organizations that will connect you to write letters to prisoners.”
Kinda scary, I thought. Sharing your life with a convicted criminal? Kinda awkward, I thought. Corresponding with a total stranger? Lots of questions. What if they tried to find you? What if they asked you for money? What possible wisdom and encouragement could I have to offer? Admittedly, they were selfish thoughts, but real.
I am increasingly concerned and aware that I do not serve enough the kinds of people Jesus has called on me to serve. How many orphans and widows have I visited this week? How many hungry and needy people have I handed food or clothing to? Do I visit the sick in hospitals? Have I ever set foot in a prison?
This passage seems to lay it out pretty clearly.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matthew 25: 34–46).
When I think about taking time, energy and resources to serve people Jesus has called me to serve, the resistance from inside can come embarrassingly quickly. I don’t have any extra money. I have small children and I have no extra energy or time. I need to do everything that I can to keep my family safe and not expose them to complicated people and situations. My church, which I support with time and money, already takes care of all these things. But lately these concerns have started to seem more like convenient excuses. I certainly have limitations on the time and money that I have been given, but how to use these things must take Kingdom priorities into account.
At the suggestion of my friend, I researched Christian pen pal ministries for incarcerated believers. The process was simple. I wrote an email, said that I was willing, and was given a name and address of someone to write to. All the inmates in the program are professed followers of Christ who are looking for Christian friendship and encouragement, so all I’m required to do is exchange letters with them.
It’s amazing how much I have learned from them. I am heartbroken by their suffering and their difficult lives. I am inspired by their hope and strength. I am honored at the opportunity to show them kindness, forgiveness and truth when they so desperately desire it. Most of the people I have written to have been abandoned by their families. The only hope they hold on to is finding family in the body of Christ.
This post is not an attempt to impress anyone with this very small work that I do. I simply have a great desire to encourage other believers to consider becoming a pen pal to an incarcerated brother or sister in Christ. There are many, many inmates who want to have a Christian pen pal and never get one because there are not enough willing volunteers to write to them. It takes a very small amount of time to write and send a letter, but in doing so, you are serving the least of these. You are serving fellow believers whom society has shunned and forgotten. You are serving the people that Jesus has called upon us to serve. If you would like more information about the organization I work with, please visit Cppministry.com.