On Saturday May 3, 2014 the first annual Colorado Prison Fellowship Re-Entry conference was held in Colorado Springs. Prison Fellowship graciously agreed to allow The Cell Church to set up a table at the conference, and I was asked to sit on the "Returning Citizens" panel to answer questions about the re-entry experience.
We were aware going in that most of the people at the conference would be Prison Fellowship volunteers, so our primary focus was not on recruiting people, but on getting the name and vision of The Cell Church out there among people with a heart for prison ministry . I had a chance to talk to a couple of people about the ministry, and quite a few more took literature.
One of the great blessings of the conference was that a number of other ministries - many of them reintegration ministries - also had tables at the conference, so the Lord gave us the opportunity to network with them. Our friends from Denver TUMI were there, as was the founder of Inside/Out in Aurora, along with several other helpful ministries.
I was able to attend three breakout sessions. The first was a helpful presentation on overcoming grief in prison, by a couple who have developed a curriculum from their own family tragedy. The second was John Byrne, the Prison Fellowship Area Director, talking about confronting and transforming prison culture through the gospel. This is an important issue for a minitry like The Cell Church, which approaches prison ministry as cross-cultural mission. The third was a mentor-mentee panel, where people in Prison Fellowship's mentor program shared their experience. As The Cell Church begins implementing our mentor ministry, and starts talking to people in local churches about mentoring prisoners, the insights gained from listening to this panel will be invaluable.
The arrest to re-entry panel, which was a plenary session, was entirely made up of DOC employees - POs, re-entry staff, programs coordinators, etc. Sitting on the returning citizens panel was interesting - all the other panelists were passionate for the Lord and had inspiring stories of His grace. One is now pastoring a church; another was a woman who had been in federal prison, and now works for Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree program. We did our best to answer questions about how parole works, how we were impacted by Prison Fellowship's programs & volunteers, whether it's possible to be in prison for decades without becoming institutionalized, etc.
All in all the conference was an informative and encouraging experience. We are grateful to Prison Fellowship for inviting us to be a part of the conference, and above all to the Lord, who has blessed us above anything we could have asked for or imagined as He builds His ministry through The Cell Church.