Congregants of Celebration Fellowship Christian Reformed Church are learning to be leaders within their context. That context is the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility and the Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Mich.
Celebration Fellowship congregants
“The reason we do this is because they don’t have 24/7 access to pastors or elders or anything that a normal church would have for crisis situations,” said Andy Hanson, pastor of Celebration Fellowship. “And they are in a continual crisis: a hostile environment and removed from family. So we’re teaching the men how to care for one another.”
Hanson has been using Timothy Leadership Training to train anywhere from five to 40 inmates. “The great thing about the teaching is that it’s inductive. I’ve never had to do time, so going in and telling them how to care for each other doesn’t work very well. This method pulls the right solutions for the problems from the guys’ situations.”
“It’s another tool in our belt for implementing the work of the Holy Spirit here at Handlon,” said Ken, an inmate. “TLT has given me the confidence to put into action what I’m learning from the Scriptures.”
One week the men set goals to show love to one other inmate by spending time with them. While they were reporting on how it went, one man in particular who had spent over 20 years in solitary confinement and had not been to the training before, suddenly began to speak up.
“This man has a difficult time communicating with people, but he began pointing at each guy saying, ‘I saw you spending time with that person.’ He went on to say, ‘This is real. I didn’t think it was, but now I know that you guys are real,’” said Hanson.
“In prison, talk is really cheap. People care what you do, not what you say. The Lord had taken what they had done, and done more than what they had set out to do. In two weeks’ time, there were five men in the prison who didn’t feel alone anymore, and then there was Will, this guy who witnessed it, was inspired by it, and encouraged.”