Happy Fall everyone,
I pray that your spirits are lifted as the temperatures fall. May the Grace and Love of God warm your soul and fill you with His joy.
Our 3rd Bible study is underway with a few more changes from the last time. The deadlines for session answers have been eliminated and a work at your own pace approach has been adopted due to the overwhelming delays in men receiving their study books. There are delays with shipping as well as delays with property distribution within all institutions due to employee shortages. Several of our Bible study participants have not received their study books shipped in early August.
We were planning to have an Advent Bible study during our 4th quarter but due in part to the fore mentioned problems, we will be changing gears to a more traditional daily devotional Advent book provided free of charge by an organization called the Society of St. Andrew that focuses on ending hunger. Scottsville United Methodist Church will also be offering these booklets to our congregation, as we have for the past several years.
I will pose a few questions or offer a topic of discussion each week for everyone registered in the Bible study to respond to as a means of remaining active and eligible for their donation at the end of the quarter.
Everyone, whether registered in the Bible study or not, will receive a copy of the Advent devotional to enhance their time spent with God leading up to the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We are happy to announce that we now have 25 registered in our current Bible study group, 7 in our art ministry (5 of whom are also in the Bible study) and 5 others receiving fellowship and devotional materials, which brings our total to 32 participants in 9 different facilities. Praise be to God.
As our enrollment grows, so does the time and funding needed to run the ministry. This is another reason for the decision to take advantage of the free resource of Advent devotionals from the Society of St. Andrew. Scottsville United Methodist Church contributes $100 per quarter to our ministry which is a true blessing, but much more is needed to maintain at this level, and we would love to continue to expand. Financing is the only limitation to how far reaching this program can grow.
I recently had to submit a grant report documenting the use of funding thus far this year. Hope Beyond the Bars has raised, through grants and donations, $5,787.00 and invested $5,496.00 directly into the ministry with the remainder to cover expenses for devotional materials in the 4th quarter. These funds have provided Bibles, study books, devotional materials, Jpay correspondence, stamps and supplies needed for our ongoing correspondence, and on top of all of that, the quarterly donations given to the inmates. I shared this information with our participants in hopes that they will realize people see them as worthy of investing in.
The grant committee also asked that we name some ways in which the participants benefited from our program. I shared the following information with them along with testimonies from two of our participants which I have included at the end of this newsletter.
If a participant does not have their own Bible, we will purchase a study Bible for them. One participant named Christopher was so moved by the gift, he told his mom how much he loved it and she expressed a desire to have one as well. When he reached out to me to find out how he could get one for her, our church mission team gladly purchased one for her and she was adopted into our women's prayer group. Christopher said he felt like her words of excitement and appreciation came through the phone to embrace him in a big hug. He was so grateful.
We also established a re-entry fund to assist individuals in need, without family support, to find housing upon their release from prison. Hope Beyond the bars will donate up to $300 and accept additional donations on behalf of the individual to help with rental assistance, clothing, tools, and food as needed. These funds are paid directly to the landlord or items purchased by Hope Beyond the Bars. To date, we have helped six men find housing, two of which received financial assistance.
We recently began consulting with a man by the name of Kevin, referred to us by one of our current ministry participants. Kevin was released from the VADOC last year and is consulting with us on ways to improve our ministry from a very valuable perspective. He emailed me the following, "I appreciate the opportunity to help in any way that I can. I’m sure that you’ve heard many times about the difficulties for formerly incarcerated individuals to get involved in things and feel a sense of belonging. This is helping me meet that need, so thank you! Talk to you soon. Peace, Kevin"
We now have two Spanish speaking participants within the ministry that receive regular devotions and email correspondence that we have to translate into Spanish using an online translating tool because none of our volunteers speak Spanish. It is a tedious process for us, but it is a labor of love.
Through one of the men in our program, we were introduced to a woman in the Virginia Correctional Center for Women who recently joined our Bible study. With this new addition, we now have a presence in nine of the facilities within the Virginia Department of Corrections simply by word of mouth and recommendations by the inmates within the program.
I have attached two unsolicited testimonies that can answer the question of how this ministry benefits the participants, much better than I can. Jesse, after more than 20 years of incarceration, will be going home next year. Carlos, who has also served over 20 years, will never see life outside of prison walls again. He went in when he was only 21 years old. They are both beloved children of God and need to be fed on His Word and loved and supported by their Christian brothers and sisters. Hope Beyond the Bars helps to make that possible.
As we learn about the Prayers of Jesus through our Bible study, we ask that each of you be in prayer for our ministry participants and volunteers listed below.