Over the years, Dismas Ministry has mailed thousands of Bibles, prayer resources, and correspondence courses to inmates and prison chaplains in all 50 states with the mission of renewing and strengthening the faith of the imprisoned. As Ron Zeilinger, the director of Dismas Ministry explains, inmates may be separated from the community but “are still members of the Body of Christ.”
“Good things are happening behind bars,” says Ron. “We are always humbled by the faith and ability of inmates to evangelize among themselves… there will always be moments when no one else can be there for a fellow inmate or cell mate and they are Christ for that person.” Ron recalled one particularly poignant example of evangelization behind bars: a father wrote to Dismas Ministry from prison expressing his appreciation for receiving a Bible and asking if his son, also incarcerated, could be sent one too. “We saw a father seeking to connect in a spiritual way with his son,” recounts Ron.
Occasionally, inmates establish a monastic life of prayer. A number have memberships with Benedictine associations. Recently, an inmate requested the full liturgy of the hours. “We send these resources when we see a depth of serious commitment and understanding,” says Ron.
Despite being a prison ministry, Dismas does not focus solely on the needs of inmates. Ron emphasizes that Dismas Ministry “puts victims central.” “Sometimes inmates say ‘my crime is minor’ and they have not thought about how their crime impacted other people, including themselves and their own families. There are victims to all crimes. We need to be aware of and attentive to how to make amends and we do that by teaching scripture.” Ron notes that Old Testament stories like that of Jacob and Esau are powerful teachings on transgression and reconciliation. The philosophy of restorative justice is woven into many of the Dismas materials and into its very mission. As Ron says, when you think about it, “The whole light and ministry of Jesus is one act of restorative justice. Jesus is the mediator, the bridge, in restoring the broken relationship between God and humanity.”
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