“The prisoners are able to live their faith. . . . It’s amazing to see how God works [and] gets his Word out through these guys,” says Matt Brown about his ministry at the Harris County jail.
Since 2017, Brown, pastor at Abiding Word, Houston, Texas, has been ministering to prisoners at the Harris County jail, the third largest jail in the country with more than 10,000 prisoners. With the support of his congregation and help from volunteers, Brown has reached over 3,000 prisoners with God’s Word. Not only have Brown and the volunteers shared God’s Word with the inmates, but they also have preached the gospel to healthcare and detention workers.
Brown first became connected with the Harris County jail when a homeless individual he knew was arrested and sent there. After helping and ministering to him, Brown formed relationships with the workers at the jail and learned about the need for chaplains. From then on, Brown and other volunteers have been going to the hospital at the Harris County jail every Wednesday to minister to the inmates.
“God’s Word does work,” says retired pastor Don Tollefson about his experience volunteering at the Harris County jail. “Many [prisoners] are open and willing to listen—they’re at this point in life that they need something that is more than themselves.”
A number of volunteers like Tollefson have become involved with this ministry opportunity. Andrew Nemmers, pastor at Hope in the Heights, Houston, has gone with Brown regularly, and four vicars from area churches have gained valuable ministry experience while serving at the jail. A mother from Abiding Word’s school also went through training and now ministers to the women in the jail—helping reach even more people. Brown and the volunteers mostly meet with the prisoners one-on-one, but they also have opportunities to have group devotions with 6 to 12 prisoners at once.
“There are some huge barriers to getting people back to the body of Christ, and we need people who have the heart for that, who are willing to reach out to somebody who is not like them,” says Dave Hochmuth, director of WELS Prison Ministry.
Numerous partnerships have developed to support this ministry. WELS Prison Ministry provides training for the volunteers. Since most of the materials at the Harris County jail were focused on the law and not gospel-centric, Brown uses existing materials from Institutional Ministries, WELS Prison Ministry, Time of Grace, and WELS Multi-Language Productions to preach the good news of Jesus to the inmates. Having some of these resources available in both English and Spanish has increased the reach even more, especially as other chaplains have begun to use these materials as well. Brown also worked with Institutional Ministries to produce four new devotional books specifically for prison ministry, with the support from a couple of members from Abiding Word.
Through the partnerships and relationships formed, thousands of people have heard God’s Word. “This is what God has called us to do—to serve in love,” says Brown.
Learn more about how you can get involved in prison ministry work in your community or through serving as a pen pal at wels.net/prison-ministry.
Author: Nicole Tessmer
Volume: 110, Number 12
Issue: December 2023