Prison evangelism is one of two things -- outsiders visiting prisons to preach the Bible's message to those incarcerated there, or prisoners themselves evangelizing within prison walls while incarcerated. Both activities happen at jails and prisons worldwide, and often are organized and done with the cooperation of prison officials.
Overall, the purpose of prison evangelism is to help reform the incarcerated, primarily with the message of Jesus Christ as recorded in the biblical gospels. As a basis for this, some who're active in prison evangelism cite Jesus Christ's words in Luke 4:18, which describe how Jesus was sent by God to "preach a release to the captives," meaning captives in both figurative and literal senses. Sometimes, these "captives," or prisoners, request spiritual help directly via letters sent to various Christian denominations.
A significant part of prison evangelism is leaving Bible-based literature, including the Bible itself, for the prisoners to read. Prison evangelists might leave this literature in prison libraries or distribute it directly to inmates. The hope is that the availability of Bibles and related literature will help inmates rehabilitate themselves, grow and maintain hope, and prepare themselves to be better, productive citizens if and when they're released.
The best results in prison evangelism come from Bible studies and meetings held inside prisons. In cooperation with prison officials, a Christian minister or group will regularly conduct these meetings and studies with all those interested. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses report success in studying with inmates, even those incarcerated for serious crimes such as first-degree murder. This success stems not just from helping others to "accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior," but also to make positive changes in their personalities and to abandon destructive habits such as smoking and drug and alcohol abuse.
The real test of prison evangelism success, though, is how inmates choose to live after released from prison. According to an "Awake!" magazine article, one inmate commented: "A lot of people find Christ in this place -- but when they leave here, they leave Christ behind!" So beyond help given inside prison walls, many prison evangelists continue their work on the outside, after inmates are set free. In this way, these evangelists serve as voluntary "probation officers," checking up on released inmates and furthering their efforts to help them spiritually.
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