The 25th Pentecostal World Conference in Calgary, Alta., late last summer was a reminder to our worldwide Pentecostal family of our critical mission as we enter a new decade. If you weren’t able to track with any of the live stream sessions, you can read highlights from the conference on pages 9 to 13. Laura Bronson’s appeal on behalf of the next generation was a well-received message in Calgary, and she recaps her message on page 14. This issue of testimony/Enrich also challenges us to go deeper in our application of the gospel to our own lives, and in the kinds of risks we will take in sharing it with others as we allow God, in His sovereignty, to order our steps. Kevin Garratt’s experience with imprisonment in China opened his eyes to the need for proclaiming the gospel to those he met there, and he reminds us of our mandate to do the same wherever we are with the same sense of urgency. Another of our workers is seeing God’s Spirit at work as she ministers to incarcerated men in Canada, and her message brings attention to the connectivity that characterizes our lives whether or not we know someone who is serving a sentence for a crime.
Down through the centuries, the challenge in Isaiah 61:1-3 still calls out to us. While none of us needs to look too far to find a hurting person, there are few other places where broken-heartedness, poverty, darkness, gloom, mourning, ashes and despair will all meet as devastatingly as in a prison. As reflected in Andres Centeno’s testimony on page 20, prisons are home to many hearts that will gradually soften with the recognition that someone is coming, in love, for an extended length of time, to convey the love of Jesus; to explain or reinforce the truth that their life is precious, created for a specific purpose, and that there is hope for the future, release from bondage, and the chance for a new start for all who will receive it by faith, no matter what experiences and choices led to being “inside.” And even beyond that, that this love comes not just with the hope of heaven and escape from judgment, but with an understanding of the bigger picture that very likely contributes to their present earthly burdens.
There is still a great need for credible, loving, consistent and committed Christian witness in correctional institutions across Canada. A recent article in Christianity Today analyzed a survey on Christians and prison ministry by Barna and Prison Fellowship. It showed optimism among evangelical Christians for the potential for redemption and restoration for incarcerated persons, though most churches aren’t involved in criminal justice efforts.
Much has been discussed in recent years about accelerated levels of incarceration in the United States, but Canada has had its own crisis as well. The John Howard Society of Canada publishes articles worth reading which point to the thousands of legally innocent people caught in the provincial jail system who will ultimately have their charges dropped and be released without going to trial. Most of the people being held “on remand” in this way are poor, mentally ill, homeless or visible minorities, or more than one of the above.
Caring for people in these contexts in creative ways can help address many contemporary challenges for the church—poverty, mental health, suicide, addictions, human trafficking, gun violence, and more. Many of our congregations are home to people from households that have been touched by incarceration in one way or another, but who suffer quietly out of fear of judgment. The potential for meaningful engagement or support is tremendous. As 2020 continues to unfold, let’s consider an increased emphasis on creating or supporting additional opportunities for community in these and other contexts wherever you may be so we can share the hope we have with people who need it most.
This article appeared in the January/February/March 2020 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2020 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
1. Megan Fowler, “Evangelicals Support Prison Reform in Theory, But Less in Practice,” Christianity Today, January 15, 2020, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/january/evangelical-prison-fellowship-criminal-justice-reform-barna.html, accessed January 15, 2020.
2. The John Howard Society of Canada, “Huge problems with the bail system in Canada—Part 1,” June 8, 2018, http://johnhoward.ca/blog/problems-with-bail-in-canada, accessed October 26, 2019.