Special to the JTA Evangelical Effort in U.S. Prisons

A “National Prison Invasion” taking place this weekend and through the beginning of this week is described in a brochure as “a unified, ecumenical effort to share the Christian faith with prisoners.”

The brochure is published by the American Evangelistic Association, and sent out from the International Prison Ministry in Dallas, a 12-year-old interdenominational, evangelical organization comprising some former prisoners, clerics and laity interested in the Christian effort.

The Invasion, which was conceived last year and dissolves in January, is an evangelical crusade to “bring together the local church by transcending denominational lines for the purpose of sharing Christ with prisoners,” according to the brochure.

Sponsoring ministries are the Dallas ministry, the Prisoners Bible Institute of Houston, and the Christian Prison Ministry of Orlando, Florida.

“What we have done is we have not restricted any faith or any church denomination, and we are trying to encourage any individuals who want to participate in this weekend to do so,” said Paul Kramer, the Invasion’s national director, in a telephone interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“There are many who believe in Christ that believe in other religions,” said Kramer. “We don’t encourage anyone to leave his faith or traditional religious group. It’s clearly their choice.” He said, however, that they “don’t encourage” Catholics.

FORMS OF OUTREACH

The director of the International Prison Ministry is Chaplain Ray, who “has been providing millions of books of testimony over the last 12-13 years.” These books of personal Christian witness are known as “life-changing” books by the Ministry and are brought into prisons by volunteers and other church-connected people, in addition to Bibles and “greeting cards,” said Kramer.

Following the weekend, said Kramer, there is a 12-week follow-up for small groups which are given study booklets, facilitated by prisoners themselves. Kramer said the Invasion and subsequent study groups have been designed to help individuals, “but there’s no requirement to be be part of the study group.”

Kramer said volunteers go into the prisons to reach inmates via recreational activities, including sports. “That’s one way of getting them together,” he said.

Kramer said there are 2,500 different prison ministries in the United States, “and every one of them has its own unique approach.” The Invasion will reach through 45 states, including New York, where about 14 prisons will be reached. The New York State prisons include Sing-Sing (Ossining, NY), Arthur Kill, Camp Summit, Walkill Correctional Facility and Queensboro Correctional.

The country has been divided up for the Invasion into three geographic regions, directed by Frank Costantino in the East; Paul Carlin in the Midwest, and Chaplain Ray in the Southwest and West. The National Invasion Task Force is chaired by Dr. Jimmy Draper in Euless, Texas.

Among the volunteers going on the Invasion is Jack (Murph the Surf) Murphy, who was released from a Florida prison last month and has declared himself “born again.”

The International Prison Ministry has previously conducted meetings in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, the brochure says, but the Invasion was orchestrated to reach to 45 states.

National sponsors of the effort are the 700 Club-Christian Broadcast Network, and PTL Television Network, each vast evangelistic television network reaching millions of Americans.

According to the brochure, 2,100 “first-time decisions for Christ” were registered in November 1984, when plans were completed for a three-day prison revival crusade in 10 Texas prisons. “But never before had there been 2,100 converts to Christ on one weekend!” the brochure says.

The evangelistic prison effort began October 1971 in Texarkana, Texas, at the Federal Correctional Institution, with Carlin, a southern Baptist evangelist who was serving a prison sentence for a technical violation of regulations concerning church building bonds that were printed in the printing plant he owned and managed. Carlin became the prison chaplain’s clerk in the Texarkana prison and organized a Christian lay witness weekend in the prison.

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