Panelists talk prayer in prison at forum
By MALLORY PANUSKA
Praying for inmates in prison is sometimes just as important as helping them find God’s way and pray themselves.
That was one of several takeaways a modest audience likely gleaned from members of a three-person panel at the Prayer Behind Bars forum held Saturday at El Shaddai Congregation in downtown Frederick.
“Prayer in prisons is the most powerful thing you can provide,” said Brother Al Smith with Mt. Hope Prison Ministries in Washington County, a member of the panel, after sharing a story about an experience working with a rough group of inmates.
He said he was called to ask members of his family to pray for the inmates, most of whom had no interest in hearing about God or religion in any capacity. After a prayer chain that included his daughters, their friends and members of their congregations, nearly the entire cell block had reformed and were listening to Smith’s regular Bible study and prayer sessions.
Helping the prisoners find their way, repent and reform is (See PRAYER B4)
Moderator Rev. Chris Jackson, former chaplain of the Frederick County Detention Center, leads a panel discussion on the role of prayer in correctional facilities. At right is Chaplain Russ Isler of Good News Jail and Prison ministry in Montgomery County. The event was held at El Shaddai Congregation in Frederick.
Staff photo by Bill Green
(Continued from B1) also something that is important for those who have made the choice to go into the prison and spread God’s word.
Chaplain Russ Isler, of the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry in Montgomery County, another panel member, shared a story of a man he encountered randomly at Wal-Mart one day. The man, he said, was “well-built and strapping” and came right up to him and said emphatically “I know you.”
Not knowing exactly who the man was, Isler said he was skeptical at first, but soon learned he had helped the man roughly a decade ago while the man was incarcerated. Isler said the man, who is now out of prison, on the right side of the law and reunited with his family, reminded Isler that he had prayed for him and prayed with him. The man said he never got the chance to thank Isler for what he did and was grateful to see him that day.
“I would never have known if I wasn’t in Wal-Mart at that time,” Isler said. “If you get a chance to go into any situation and share the word, you have an advantage to those that haven’t … It’s a great opportunity to reach people at their lowest and bring them to their highest.”
Rev. Chris Jackson, the former chaplain of the Frederick County Detention Center, served as moderator of the event, and likened its mission to the Bible story of Jonah and the Whale. Jackson referenced a quote on the front of the program for Saturday’s event, “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord,” from Jonah’s prayer to bring his point home.
“It’s interesting the connection to the work we do with those behind bars,” Jackson said of the quote and the story.
In Jonah’s story, Jackson explained, Jonah was stuck inside the whale and thought he was going to die. But then, after reaching out to the Lord, the whale vomited him up and Jonah went on to share God’s message. Prisoners are also stuck somewhere and are looking for that one thing that will set them free, Jackson said, which he said comes from the Lord. And while some do not physically leave prison, they still experience it.
“Some don’t get out, but when they utter that prayer they’re free on the inside,” Jackson said. “Some of them are freer in jail than a lot of people are walking across Market Street here in Frederick.”
The forum, which featured Chaplain John Schuch with the Frederick County Adult Detention Center as the third panelist, also included a plug for the upcoming National Day of Prayer in May.
The annual event will this year feature an emphasis on prison reform and following up with those who are incarcerated, which the audience learned Saturday from Juin Killingsworth, the Maryland state coordinator for the National Day of Prayer.
Killingsworth attended the forum and spoke several times about not only the National Day of Prayer and its origin and purpose, but also about how she believes the country is on the verge of change in terms of those who are incarcerated finding their way and becoming who they were always supposed to be, in God’s eyes.
“I see it time and time again, people who are truly transformed,” she said. “Those who really love the Lord are there to ask God to repent and ask God to do better in themselves … We are going to see a change. We are going to see people who have been hidden away come out and do the work of the Lord.”
The panelists also took questions from the audience, which included inquiries about how to become involved in the prison ministry, and the biggest obstacles they face when going to the prisons and sharing the gospel.
The National Day of Prayer is set this year for May 3 and is celebrated with various events all over the country.
Follow Mallory Panuska on Twitter: @MalloryPanuska.