The Table Podcast

Prison Ministry and Reintegration

In this episode, Kymberli Cook, Anna Schaefer, Tristan Tenny, and Dan Brygger discuss prison ministry, focusing on how the church can minister to prisoners and ex-offenders.

Timecodes
00:32
Cook introduces the guests
01:32
Schaefer’s journey to becoming a prison ministry coordinator
03:58
Brygger’s background in leading prison ministry
06:17
Tenny’s involvement with prison ministry
07:25
Why the church can overlook this population
11:14
Theological considerations in ministry
15:00
Integrating past offenders into the church
24:01
Spiritual living and discipleship after prison release
31:44
Welcoming to ex-offenders into the church
37:00
Caution against past prisoners serving in ministry too soon
39:24
Safety considerations in integrating ex-offenders into the church
42:45
Preparing to minister to prisoners and ex-offenders
Transcript
Kymberli Cook
Welcome to The Table podcast where we discuss issues of God and culture. My name is Kymberli Cook, and I’m the Senior Administrator here at the Hendricks Center. And today we’re gonna be talking about ministering to and alongside those who have been in prison. And we’re joined today by Anna Schaefer, who’s the Prison Ministry Coordinator at First Baptist Dallas, Tristan Tenny, over here, who is our current senior Faith and Work Fellow at the Hendricks Center, and who has also been a prison nurse for ten years. So he’s seen a lot of things. And then we have joining us via Skype, Dan Brygger who is the Wisconsin Director of the Prison Ministry at Cru who has been in this type of ministry for 42 years. So he has seen even more. So thank you so much for being here, everybody, and we’re really excited about this conversation. We’ve wanted to have it for a long time, and it’s hard to actually find people to talk about it, believe it or not. So thank you for being here.

First I’d like to just go around and get a brief introduction from you all, and maybe hear a little bit of how you ended up working with, and in relationship with, those who are incarcerated and have been incarcerated. So Anna, let’s start with you.

Anna Schaefer
Well, it’s a very interesting thing. I spent 28 years as a banker. So I retired early from banking, had really just felt like I wanted to do something for the Lord, and I was really sick of corporate America. And I had another … I had a job that ended, and I had another job offer, and I just really didn’t want to take it. And so the Lord and I had a conversation, and I opted to do early retirement, and just start seeking what he wanted me to do. I did a lot in our women’s ministry at the church, and was fully retired for three years. And I got involved in prison ministry because my small group Bible study leaders started going to Gatesville with a group from our church. And I was heading up a women’s missions team for women-to-women missions efforts, and I was looking for places for our women to go. And I said, “I want to go find out about it.” And it doesn’t take very long. I went twice and just went, “Okay. This is …” So I got involved with that team and we’d been without anybody in my position for about nine months, and were having a meeting one night, and asking our missions pastor for some things that we needed. And he said, “Ladies, I want to help y’all, but we need to get somebody in the office.” And he turned around to me and said, “We need to talk, because we think you’d be great for this position.”
Kymberli Cook
Those are always great.
Anna Schaefer
And I’m like, “Wait a minute, do what? I’m not … I am not a minister. I’ve never been to seminary, and I don’t want to go.” We sat down and talked to him, and I spent most of the interview trying to tell him why I was not qualified to do the job. But obviously it was the Lord wanting it. In banking, I managed a department, and headed up a staff. And he said, “I really want the church to have somebody that can coordinate teams of people to go. I want to mobilize our people to go and do ministry. I don’t want one single person doing this ministry. I see lots of people involved.” And so I’ve only done prison ministry for five years now, and I’ve been on staff at the church for three. And I’m just part time, so I’m semi-retired. But I’m just honored and blessed that the Lord has allowed me to do what I do.
Kymberli Cook
Yeah. Okay. Fantastic. So Dan, let’s go to you next. Can you tell us a little bit about the 42 years, and how you got involved in this whole conversation?
Dan Brygger
Sure. When we first came with Cru, we worked … I was formerly a school teacher, and so they put me with the high school ministry for three years. After that, worked with pastors and laymen for a couple of years. And then I learned about prison ministry, which was just quite young at that time. Met a man who had been given a 105-year sentence in prison. Tried to tunnel out of Atlanta Federal, but his tunnel actually collapsed, and he eventually decided maybe he’d check out Christianity. He came to know the Lord, and his life was so changed through his relationship with the Lord that a third of the guards at Atlanta Federal signed a petition to the president asking him to give him a full pardon, which he got.
Kymberli Cook
Oh, my goodness.
Dan Brygger
And so I talked with him, I talked with the director of the prison ministry, and the Lord led us to go with the prison ministry. We started in California for a couple of years, then opened the ministry here in Wisconsin. Been here ever since. I presently am working in four prisons, three maximum and one medium security each week. My wife and I have had the privilege of going to Siberia two times to train Christians over there when 27 prisons opened up for Christians to come in and do ministry. So we taught the Christians over there how to do ministry in prison. And so I consider it a real privilege to continue doing evangelism and discipleship in the prison system.
Kymberli Cook
Fantastic. Wow, that’s … in Siberia. That’s amazing. Awesome. Okay. So that’s Dan. Thank you. And then Tristan. Let’s here a little bit about how you ended up in this world.
Tristan Tenny
So I have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and I went to work at a prison in West Virginia briefly as a staff nurse, and then I became the Director of Health Care Services. And it was the largest prison in the state of West Virginia. And I was there for about seven years. And we felt like God was moving us to go to seminary, all at the same time I was pastor, pastoring a church bivocationally. And we moved here, and I had to find a job that … as a nurse, while I was going to school to pay the bills and feed our kids. And I started working at the Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth. And so I’ve been there for most of my time while I’ve been at DTS. And I just feel that that is the preferred population that I like to work with. When we came here I wanted to minister in a jail somewhere. Actually, I feel like my job as a nurse is there ministering, because it’s a vulnerable population that really needs somebody to be there to help teach them, and to shine a light for them.
Kymberli Cook
And in … absolutely I agree with you, it’s a vulnerable population. But it is … in doing research even for this podcast, it is a much larger congregation … it’s a much larger congregation, yeah, and population than I think a lot of Americans might be aware of, unless they’re somehow employed in the justice system or something, or they’re really related, or they know somebody who’s in a prison. Some of the statistics that I found is, 1 in 37 people is under correctional supervision in America right now. So, that’s about almost … it said almost three percent, and 65 million Americans have a criminal record. And that is a huge group of people. But again, if you’re not in that world … which obviously there are quite a few people in that … but if you’re not in that world, these people tend to remain rather invisible to us. Why do you all think that is? Why do they … why are they, like I said, just invisible to us? Dan, why don’t we start with you? Why do you think that is?
Dan Brygger
I think that people are watching TV and seeing programs that show the worst part of what’s going on. But when someone gets sent to prison, it’s kinda like society says, “Get them out of here. We don’t want them around.” And so they are basically a forgotten population.
Kymberli Cook
And when I hear that I think immediately of Genesis 1, and our being created in God’s image, and that each person has dignity as a person created as the image of God, and that we are not aware of and not paying attention to, often, this huge group of people. They just remain invisible, and their dignity isn’t really recognized. Do you all have any other thoughts as to why it is?
Anna Schaefer
I think people in the church who’ve been formerly incarcerated don’t really, aren’t really ready to jump up and say, “Hey, I’ve been in prison,” because there’s a stigma attached to it that society has placed there. But you would be surprised that the person sitting next to you in the pew in a church has likely been touched by incarceration in some way, either them or a family member, or a friend, or … And we have a number of people on our team who have been formerly incarcerated. And you don’t know until you sit down and listen to somebody’s testimony about how they got where they are now to know what they’ve been through in the past. So, I think, as Christians, we tend to not just be completely open with all the bad stuff in our past. We want people to see us for how we are now, and not necessarily what we’ve been through.
Kymberli Cook
And you’re right. It really is, if you would think of a modern day, contemporary example, it’s our contemporary scarlet letter, probably particularly for sex offenders. That is something that our society, it is a giant thing emblazoned on you that keeps people away, and is very hard for people to just even work through. And it comes as a surprise, like you said, because people stay rather quiet about it.

So, we’ve talked a little bit about the human dignity element of it. Tristan, what … as a seminary student, soon to be a graduated seminary student … what are some biblical or theological things, concepts, passages that we should keep in mind as we’re considering this demographic?

Tristan Tenny
Yeah. So I think it’s important for us to, not to judge, that … I’m reminded every time I go to work that we’re all sinners, and a lot of times, the only thing that’s separating me from the person who’s incarcerated currently is that their sins have been made aware of. Somebody knows about what they’ve done. And so we’re all … we all are fallen, and we make mistakes. And so I really, I think about that while I’m there, just … not trying to judge, and remembering that we are fallen, and we’re under the Fall right now.
Kymberli Cook
Dan, what other biblical concepts or theological concepts have you … have stood out to you over all of your time in this ministry?
Dan Brygger
Well the book of Philemon is really practical for helping people learn how to deal with prisoners when they come back to society. Paul writes of Philemon, and he says, “You treat him as a brother.” And the church needs to learn to be the church, and to welcome these people. Again, there’s that … that stigma is always there. But there are people in prison who have been completely transformed. They’ve learned to turn their life over to Christ. And once they get out, they face all kinds of problems, especially people who’ve been in for a long period of time. They’re in a time warp. A friend of mine, a man I ministered to, got out of prison after being in prison for over 30 years. And it was very difficult for him to acclimate to society. Another man who’d been in 26 years said for months he was afraid to even walk out the door.

Things change so much while they’re in there that it’s a real difficult time for them to come in. But we need, we on the outside need to be a conduit to help them get attached to the body of Christ out here. And we need to do the same thing that Barnabas did for Paul. He said, “He’s no longer killing Christians, so welcome him.”

Kymberli Cook
Anna, did you have anything you’d like to add?
Anna Schaefer
I think the main thing that comes to my mind is just grace. God’s grace for all of us in that … we’re … Easter is Sunday, and on Good Friday, Jesus died on the cross for all of us. And our sins are no different than theirs. And God loved us enough to allow his Son to die for all of us. And I think the most important thing that we need to do is show them his love. And I think that’s what they respond to as well when we’re doing ministry, is the love of Christ.
Kymberli Cook
Now, this being such a large group of people, Dan, you brought up, I think, exactly where I’d like to go with the conversation. We obviously need to love them while they are in prison, and, like you said, I love that, be a conduit to God’s people, a conduit of God’s grace while they are in prison, and really, I would have to imagine, ideally helping them, and helping the experience be one of sanctification, rather than just despair, or a step in a more negative direction, but really saying, “This is an opportunity for the Lord to really work with you in a very intense way.” And so loving them while they are in prison. But I think another piece to this, and something we’ve seen on multiple occasions, even in our own church, is the body of Christ also needs to be considering and preparing and having a plan to reintegrate those who are coming out of prison into their community. So not only are you ministering to them while they’re there, you have a place for them to come that is safe and welcoming after their time in prison.

But there are quite a few tensions associated with that kind of preparation. But the church particularly, and Christians individually have to … there’s just quite a few tensions in that preparation. So, let’s walk through some of that. What are some of those tensions that we face, that you all have seen people face as they maybe are genuinely trying to welcome past offenders? But what are the things that you see them managing? Tristan, why don’t we start with you?

Tristan Tenny
Yeah. So I think there sometimes is anxiety that’s associated if people find out that somebody’s coming to the church that’s been to jail or prison. But I really think it’s an ecclesiology thing. Depends on what your view of the church is, and how that’s communicated from the leadership in the church down to the people who are in the congregation. What is our view of the church? Is the church a museum for the saints? Or is the church a hospital for sick sinners? And depending on how that’s communicated, I think, is gonna depend on the level of receptibility of the congregation to receive people that have been to prison before.
Kymberli Cook
Anna, what are some of the tensions that you see that people have wrestled with?
Anna Schaefer
I think one of the hardest things is you’re dealing with a lot of people who have had addiction issues in the past. And they want to get away from that addiction, but sometimes they relapse with that addiction, and dealing with that as they come back into society and come back to church can be a real struggle, particularly if they’re not managing that well, and they’re not able to stay off of whatever their addiction is, whether it’s drugs or alcohol, can be a problem when they come to church or on campus, and are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. That can be a problem. It’s not … I don’t think it’s real often. We had one situation that we had to deal with in that regard, but I don’t think it’s real often. But I think they really … that’s a big struggle is a lot of people that are incarcerated are there because of an addiction issue. And so coming out, helping them deal with addiction issues is really important.
Kymberli Cook
That’s interesting. In talking with Tristan about some of this beforehand, it really stood out to me. I just … and Tristan, you can share some of the statistics in a second … but I had no idea, at least actively … It makes sense, but I had never really considered the role of addiction and drug and alcohol. Can you share some of the statistics? Do you remember them?
Tristan Tenny
Yeah. So I usually … I work in the screening department, which is the booking department, where people come in off the streets into the jail. And statistics show that 60 to 80 percent of everyone who is arrested has at least one drug in their system at the time of arrest. So we spend lots of time trying to detox those folks, making sure that their health is taken care of. And then they gotta struggle with knowing that they’re gonna go back out into society. And if they go back to the same group of friends, the same place, the same social network, it’s gonna be … they’re gonna have a similar outcome.
Kymberli Cook
And they really, again, if you … the church being one way that if there’s no other conduit to a community, that’s precisely where they’re gonna go back. They’re already gonna have to manage that anyway. But then, if there’s not a healthy place for them to be as well, that just sets them up, almost, for relapse and failure.
Tristan Tenny
Yeah. If they don’t have a network of people who can encourage them and hold them accountable, absolutely it’s gonna happen.
Kymberli Cook
So, on the practical end, if drugs and alcohol and addiction are such a issue that needs to be managed, as it relates to this particular demographic of people, maybe one way that the church can make itself more friendly to past offenders and that kind of … and those … that group, would be to have a really robust recovery program. Is that what I’m hearing?
Tristan Tenny
Yeah, I think so.
Kymberli Cook
Okay. That was just something that I had never considered. And then, in hearing from you all I thought, “Oh, my goodness. That is such a huge issue.” And I’m in my sheltered world.
Anna Schaefer
I think as you talk to those who are coming, getting ready to go home, their greatest fear is, “I don’t want to go home and make the same mistakes I made that got me here. I want to go home and be different than I was, and I don’t want to relapse, I don’t want to go back to those old behaviors.” And they really, there’s a fear there of, “I’m gonna get sucked back into that, and I don’t want to.” And I see that expressed a lot when they’re getting ready to go home.
Kymberli Cook
Interesting. So I feel like another tension that is maybe faced more on the part of the Christian community on the outside that is seeking to be, hopefully, seeking to be a welcome place, is that there’s this tension between truly believing in redemption and grace, and extending that to people, and a fear … it has to be called that, it’s a straight up fear … of being taken advantage of, or being placed in an unsafe situation. And I feel like that fear and that tension between really wanting to be gracious and believe that the Lord can change, and like you were talking about, Dan, true transformation has and can happen. So, there’s these two things that both individuals who might sit next to somebody in a pew and hear their story and think, “Oh, wow. Okay. Okay. I still want to show you the love of Christ, but I have these two conflicting emotions.” Let me first ask, is that even something that we need to be worrying about, as Christians? Is that something … is the Christian thing just to forgive and forget? Is it unChristian to take precautions? Just that whole area of tension I think is a big barrier for churches and Christian communities becoming a safe place and a welcoming place for past offenders. So Dan, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on that tension, and if, like I said, is it even something we should be worrying about?
Dan Brygger
Well, when I hear men say, “I’m soon gonna get out,” I tell them, “You need to concentrate on walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.” I take them to Galatians 5. It says, if we walk after the Spirit we will not carry out the desires of the flesh. Statistics say that over 90 percent of prisoners are there because of alcohol and drug abuse. And so I take them to that first list in Galatians 5 that says these are the works of the flesh. And then I show them the fruit of the Spirit in the following list. And at the end of the list of the fruit of the Spirit it says, there is no law against these things. And I often tell the men, “When I see a man come back to prison that I’ve worked with before, I say, ‘Why are you back here?'” And I have yet to hear a man say, “I’m back on three counts of kindness and two of gentleness.”

And so we need to help them learn, if they haven’t already, what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit. And when they walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and have someone who can disciple them and hold them accountable … You need to have at least one person in a church who compassionately loves this person, but isn’t afraid to ask those hard questions. How’s your thought life right now? What’s the Holy Spirit been telling you this week? And how well are you doing with Christian fellowship, asking these real hard questions to a person, showing them love by giving them time with them, and actually continuing the discipleship process, because they’ve come through a lot of programs. Prisons have programs, but it’s always based on your self, depending on yourself instead of the Holy Spirit. And so they need to be continually worked with, discipled. And if one person can meet with them once a week and spend time together really sharing their life … Lots of times we talk about discipleship, and we equate that with Christian Ed. Well, discipleship needs to have accountability, time in the Word, and prayer, and intimacy. We need to get to know that person intimately, and share our lives with them, so they can have somebody with skin on who has been through difficulties. Galatians 6, help those who have fallen. Do it with gentleness. And Romans 5 and 2 Peter 1 both talk about the growth process. They need to face reality. The tribulation in our life causes endurance. So they need to be ready to face tribulation in the outside world.

Tristan Tenny
Just to echo what Dan is saying is, people, when they are released, they really have the cards stacked against them. They’re gonna have a difficult time getting a job, now that they have a criminal background. And the Department of Justice released a study that they followed about 400,000 inmates across 30 states over 9 years, and they found that 5 out of 6 of those folks were back in jail at some point in time. So they really need to trust in the Holy Spirit, and they need a community of believers to be incorporated in.
Kymberli Cook
So, keying in on a word that Dan used, in creating an intimacy with at least one person in the Christian community, brings up the tension of, if I’m in the Christian community, should I be worried about being unsafe? Or is that just something that I need to get past, and that the Christian thing to do is to get past that for the sake of this other? ‘Cause I definitely think there’s a part of that. What are your thoughts on that? Have you encountered anybody who has felt these tensions in your ministry, Anna?
Anna Schaefer
No. But I think Scripture says we need to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. We need to be wise in keeping ourselves safe. But I think you can do that and interact with them. I think you could be a mentor to someone who’s in … and most of the prison systems will allow you to be a mentor while they’re in prison, and then be a mentor as they come out, which is a great way to do it. And that’s … one of my desires is for us to start a team of mentors who will connect with people before they come out, and then work with them after they get out. And I think that continuity of knowing them when they’re in, and working with them as they come out is great. But you can do that by meeting with them at the church. Have that once a week session with them, but do it on the church campus, where it’s a neutral ground, and you’re not taking them to your home. Or meet at a coffee shop. I think there’s things you can do to be safe, and to be wise, but at the same time, show the love of Christ.

And there are programs, and we have a halfway house that we work with here in Dallas for single moms coming out. And I love the ministry that we do there, and we connect with those ladies on a regular basis. And some of them do come to our church. And we really have … and they’ve been integrated into our church without any problems at all. So I think it’s very possible to deal with that tension by just being wise and, okay, they’re not necessarily gonna be your best friend and come to your home, or things like that, but you can be their friend and meet with them at church and be their mentor. And really, that tension between do you want to be their mentor and disciple them, or do you want to be their friend, their buddy? And I think Dan would say we need to be their mentor and disciple them and hold them accountable and do the hard stuff, which is to be honest with them and ask those question about how are things going?

Kymberli Cook
So that …
Dan Brygger
Could I add something?
Kymberli Cook
Please do.
Dan Brygger
In prison, the general rule is, you don’t ask an inmate what he’s in for, what crime he committed. But I’ve found, from my experience, as I begin to share my life with a person, what’s going on inside me, what has gone on inside me, my background, they open up and they start sharing their background, and quite often will just tell you the whole story of how they got into prison. And then you know where to go with them more clearly.
Kymberli Cook
That’s very interesting. What does … and you were starting to go there, I think, with what you were saying, Anna. I think there’s an important, overarching question of what does a prisoner, past offender friendly church look like? If you could say these are the ideal programs … or lack of programs if that’s what they’ve been through … or here are the key characteristics of the congregation members, and the congregation has been set up to receive this demographic of people well, just what does that look like? What are some things that you would say? And we’ve already mentioned mentorship. We’ve mentioned a solid, robust recovery ministry. What else would you all say? Tristan, let’s start with you.
Tristan Tenny
Yeah. I think finding ways for them to be engaged in the activities of the church. We have a gentleman that goes to our church, and he spent about 25 years in prison for murder, and was released, and was very reluctant to go to church anywhere because of the way he felt that he would be received. And he had a conversation with our pastor, and just told him his story, where he’d been, and what had happened in his life. And our church really opened their arms up and accepted him into the church. And a few months ago, they played his story. They recorded his story about how he had been changed, and his life was redeemed. And at the end of that, there’s always this tension. You always wonder how are people gonna receive this? And he laid it all out and said how God had forgiven him, and his life had been changed. And at the end of that story everybody in the church stood and clapped and applauded him. And every Sunday morning he’s at our church, in the parking lot, welcoming cars, helping people find the door.

We got another guy who spent time in prison, and he’s very passionate about reaching folks who are drug addicted and homeless and have been to prison. And so he is out ministering to those folks as an extension of our church. So I think it’s important to find ways to get them engaged in activities of the church.

Kymberli Cook
Dan …
Dan Brygger
One of the men who I worked with, one that I referred to earlier, was a lifer. Got out of prison and began attending a church. And his life spoke for what it was. And after a few years of doing hard labor, a job where he had to work swing shift, and he’s in his late 50s, after they saw his lifestyle, and let him teach a few times, a few years later they asked him to become their pastor. And he’s now pastor of that church.
Tristan Tenny
And I think those folks, their testimonies are so powerful. They add so much to the church, so much flavor to the church, of a changed life, of actually the transforming power of the work of God in someone’s life. And just for their testimonies to be shared I think is just so powerful.
Kymberli Cook
So what I’m hearing is an opportunity, not just for them to be included in the community, but for them to potentially go into vocational Christian ministry, at least, but definitely finding a place for them to serve, that kind of idea is key also. Anna, is there anything else you would add, as far as how to create a friendly environment, maybe particularly as it relates to the congregation, if you have a congregation that might be a little bit more reticent, what that might look like? How to prepare them.
Anna Schaefer
If you have a congregation that’s reticent, then they may not be involved in any kind of prison ministry. And so getting them educated on prison ministry in general, and what they can do coming back out I think is probably important. We have a church body that is very open and welcoming, and we do ministry at the Dallas County jail, we do ministry in Gatesville. We do ministry in the Estes unit in Venus. And the folks we’re ministering to know where we are and how to get in touch with us. And we tell them when we do ministry, “If you parole to Dallas County, you are welcome on our campus. And if you’ll let me know ahead of time, we’ll make sure somebody meets you, and gets you integrated into the church. And so, I think it’s just being, showing the love of Christ to everybody, not just the formerly incarcerated.
Kymberli Cook
Absolutely.
Anna Schaefer
So it’s just that attitude …
Dan Brygger
I believe that the church has one big responsibility, and that is to not lay hands too quickly on someone. There was a man who got out of prison. He was a relatively new Christian. And someone heard him share his testimony, and they said, “We want to get you on our TV.” It was one of the major Christian TV networks. And he called me up and said, “I’m going to be on international TV, sharing my testimony.” And I said, “I’m sorry to hear that.” He said, “What?” I said, “Yes. I’m sorry to hear that. Bible says you shouldn’t lay hands on anyone too quickly.” “Oh, they’re not laying their hands on me.” I said, “Yes, they are. You get in front of that camera, they’re laying their hands on you.” He says, “Well, I’m gonna do it anyhow.” He got out of that, finished that program sharing his testimony. And a few months later he was living with his girlfriend in sin. I don’t if he went back to prison ever, but he blew it. And I told him the enemy would come after him real hard once he did that. So, I tell people, “You shouldn’t be getting up, giving your testimony publicly until after at least six months to a year being out and getting your life back in order.”
Kymberli Cook
And so, on the other side, the church who is welcoming individuals in can be as warm as possible and as welcoming as possible, but also saying, “We’re gonna watch for awhile. And you are absolutely welcome to be a part of our community, but we’re not gonna put you in charge of anything, or put you in … We’re just gonna take this nice and slow.” Is that fair?
Tristan Tenny
Sure. I think so. As a pastor, you’re held between the tensions of wanting to welcome and embrace and offer forgiveness to folks who have been to prison. But then also, you have a responsibility to the congregation as well, to protect and make sure that everybody’s safe. So you gotta hold those things in tension, yes. Absolutely.
Kymberli Cook
So, getting into that, I think Anna and I, you’ve spoken … you and I have spoken a little bit about particular areas where safety and keeping your congregation safe and that kind of thing pops up. Can you walk us through those kinds of situations with past offenders?
Anna Schaefer
I think probably the biggest one would be sex offenders who come to your church. And at our church they’re welcome, but they’re asked to meet with the head of our pastoral ministries department, and the head of our facilities, and visit with them before they come on campus, and understand what the expectations are for them being on campus. And then they’re asked to check in with Security when they’re on campus, and to have someone with them that will be with them while they’re on campus. And, of course, you have to be careful with, in those situations that, when you allow people to work in church and do ministry, that you’re not placing them in a position where there could be a problem. So like working with children, or working with teenagers, or working with the opposite sex. Keeping them in places where they’re gonna feel safe, and the congregation’s gonna feel safe, as well.
Kymberli Cook
Dan, so you have anything to add to that?
Dan Brygger
I agree very much with that aspect. I think that if … depending on the person’s crime, we don’t really need to tell anybody that they’re an ex-offender.
Tristan Tenny
Correct.
Dan Brygger
As they melt into the congregation, people will see their life, because many prisoners have come out of prison where they’ve had fantastic, close fellowship because of the persecution they get. And they go out and they say, “I couldn’t find that kind of fellowship anywhere.” And that’s why we need to give them a mentor, a discipler who can really help move them into the church, and be that conduit to encourage them, and introduce them to other people, and help them along.
Kymberli Cook
So, I’m … and I agree with you. I think we’ve even seen that in our congregation at our church is it’s typically best not to publicize anything. If somebody has some questions, finds out somebody’s background, then the church can say, “Yes, we’re aware. This is the situation. Here’s what we’ve been doing to make sure that we’re shepherding and keeping everybody … again, the tension between redemption and security that the people feel. And … but just keeping it on the DL and letting people really be reintegrated in a holistic and a very authentic way.

So, okay. I already asked that question. I looked down and I thought, oh my goodness. There it is.

What … one final thought or question is how can I, as an individual … So we talked a lot about a church and what the institution can do and how they can set it up. How can I, as an individual work, get into ministering to and building relationships with prisoners, and past … and then transitioning maybe even into past offenders and that kind of thing? How can I get involved, one, and also what should I be working on in my own heart and in my own praying for, and my own spiritual development? What should be my approach? Anna, let’s start with you.

Anna Schaefer
Well, our folks who are involved in our ministry, first are members of our congregation. So we do all of our ministry through Prison Fellowship, is our … who gets us in the doors of the prisons. But they are members of our church. And I get lots of requests from people who are not church members wanting to know about our ministry. And I always tell them, our teams are made up of our church members. But if you’re interested, I can put you in touch with someone from Prison Fellowship in our area that can tell you other ways you can get involved. But I meet with everyone who wants to be a part of our prison ministry at first and talk with them about how they came to know the Lord, where they are in their walk right now, and why they think they want to do prison ministry.

Because I think you have to be very solid in your faith, and very stable emotionally, spiritually, everything. Your life has to be on solid ground for you to take on doing prison ministry. It’s an area where the enemy attacks. And that’s the warning I give everybody that gets involved in our ministry. If you’re not aware of what spiritual warfare is, you will be very soon, because the enemy does not like us taking the light to the darkness. And he tries to stop us at every turn. And you need people who are strong in their faith and strong warriors for the faith to be able to do this ministry and to stick with it.

Prayer is an overarching requirement for everything. We have a prayer team. We publish a prayer calendar on a weekly basis. And I expect that everybody that’s involved in our ministry is praying for the ministry, for the teams, for the people we’re ministering to, praying for the Lord to bring more laborers, because the harvest is ripe, and we need more laborers. There’s lots of opportunity to get involved, if you want to get involved. But you need to be in a good place yourself before you’re ready to do that.

Kymberli Cook
Interesting. So, I just want to thank you all so much for being here. Anna … I almost called you Anna … Anna, Tristan, and Dan. Thank you so much for your time, and for your incredible ministries, and your just dedication to the dignity of this group of people. And we just want to also thank you for joining us on The Table. And if you have a topic you would like us to consider for a future episode, please email us at thetable@dts.edu. Again, that’s thetable@dts.edu. And be sure to join us next time as we discuss issues of God and culture.
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Anna Schaefer
Anna is passionate about prison ministry because one can visibly see God working and changing lives. She has three children and four grandchildren.
Dan Brygger
Dan and his wife René minister to inmates in the state prisons of Wisconsin. They lead a large team of volunteers who have a “win-build-send” ministry inside the prisons. Using every opportunity possible to introduce inmates to Christ, they begin the building process through Bible studies, discipleship groups, and individual appointments. They then train the Christian inmates how to use creative initiative evangelism among their fellow prisoners. The Bryggers also represent Campus Crusade for Christ in Operation Starting Line, a nationwide evangelistic collaboration of prison ministries.
Kymberli Cook
Kymberli Cook is a doctoral student in Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and serves as the Senior Administrator at the Hendricks Center, overseeing Cultural Engagement events and efforts, pastoral relationships, and creative design. She holds a Master of Theology from DTS and resides in Dallas with her husband and daughter.
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