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CBC Prison Ministry: Changing Lives

The Prison Ministry team from Charis Bible College, Jerry Cherian, Charlene Heatley, Caroline Walton, Darla Livingston, Garrett Ericksen, Mark Jones, Larry Hoover, Carl Reichart, Robert Smith, Sandy Upton and Johnathan Clark.
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In 2005 Don Krow, a former Charis Bible College (CBC) instructor and coauthor of the Discipleship Evangelism (DE) program, launched a correspondence-based prison ministry as part of an overseas outreach project. In an effort to establish a similar program to touch the lives of local inmates, Don and former CBC students, Vinnie and Becky Rose, tailored the outreach specifically to meet the mail restrictions for prisoners in Colorado.

Two years after the program's inception, first year CBC-Colorado student, Charlene Heatley signed up to be a part of the prison ministry effort. At that time the project involved writing encouraging letters to local prison inmates, and sending lessons from the Discipleship Evangelism (DE) course to those prisoners who expressed interest.

An inmate's handwritten testimony
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Through her participation in the letter exchange, Charlene developed a true heart for the ministry to the inmates, and wanted to see the prison ministry grow and become more effective. It was of utmost concern to her that the inmate’s questions were answered correctly, and that they understood what they were studying through the DE lessons. She began to write letters that were more intentional and focused on sharing the good news of
Jesus Christ.

Although the program had been established with good intentions, and was passed down through capable hands, by 2008 participation in the prison ministry had dwindled. Determined to see the program succeed, Charlene continued writing letters to minister to the inmates over the course of her summer break. She would stop by her campus mailbox once a week to check for letters from the prisoners and correspond accordingly.

Charlene composing a letter in response to an inmate submission. (Click to enlarge)When classes resumed for her second year, Charlene began the process of expanding the outreach efforts to include in-prison visitation. In order to gain the security clearance needed to enter and minister in a Colorado prison, she had to go through an application process with the Department of Corrections. This time consuming process required her to file extensive paperwork and attend special classes. Charlene kept the ministry active and moving forward, through the continued exchange of letters and lessons, while she completed the State requirements to enter the
prison facilities.

In 2009, at the beginning of Charlene's apprenticeship year, she was ready to hold a meeting for first year students interested in volunteering for the CBC Prison Ministry program. Charlene found ten students who had a heart to minister to those behind bars, and assigned one inmate to each of them. The requests for ministers from more inmates came quickly however, and soon, her student volunteers were ministering to an average of three inmates each. In addition, Charlene was writing to five inmates and making the in-prison visits. It became obvious to her that she had more responsibility than she could handle on her own. In an effort to manage the rapid growth of the ministry, she began recruiting new people to share some of the responsibility. CBC students Caroline Watson and Darla Livingston are now actively involved in the management of CBC Prison Ministry program.

Darla Livingston choosing the appropriate DE lesson to mail to one of her inmates.
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The inmates are responding to God's unconditional love, and the message of grace shared by the prison ministry volunteers. Charlene said that it is easy to recognize when the inmate's hearts have been touched by the Word through the varied and creative ways in which they express their appreciation. Charlene said some inmates have even written songs
of thanks.

The fruit Charlene sees from this ministry fills her with joy, and she has plans in the works for the expansion of the program. As a result of the outreach, several inmates now lead their own Bible studies, and Charlene knows of one prisoner who actually held a baptismal service in the prison. “I really have a heart for this. This is a ministry of love and forgiveness.”

Charlene has submitted a request to the Colorado Department of Corrections for permission to mail Andrew’s books to the prisons in Colorado on a monthly basis. She also has plans to acquire the necessary security clearance to enable more volunteers to participate in the in-prison ministry visits. Charlene believes that the program will eventually expand to prisons across the country and internationally as well. With her determination and her heart to reach the imprisoned, Charlene will see this vision, which the Lord has given her, come to pass.