Stories are the mother tongue and currency of our hearts. This is the stuff with which we do the business transaction of life. It’s worldview. – Warren Walsh
For decades, YWAM Publishing has worked to produce and distribute resources that stir Christians to actively impact their world for Christ. But recently, a door has opened for YWAM to directly partner with their readers to minister in a powerful way through the Prison Heroes 101 project. YWAM Publishing Editorial Director Warren Walsh shares that, in all his years at YWAM, he has “never seen a project that has as much traction as this one does.”
What exactly is the Prison Heroes 101? What does it accomplish? Why is it such a powerful and successful project? And how is it relevant to the Well Planned Gal audience? Family Magazine had the privilege of sitting down with Warren Walsh to discuss these very questions.
The Story Behind the Prison Heroes 101 Project
“I was at a missions conference selling books for some of the speakers,” Mr. Walsh shared. “One of the speakers was a gentleman named Tom Kohl. Tom Kohl is a federal judge, and I was selling a book at our table for him as he did a workshop. The book was called Losing Megan. Megan, his daughter, had been killed in her twenties, running with the wrong crowd. She’d been murdered. The murderer was apprehended, tried, and convicted. Through it all, God impressed on Tom Kohl’s heart that he should offer forgiveness to the murderer of his daughter. And he did. In this whole process, God gave him a heart for prison ministry. He started ministering in prisons. He’s still a sitting federal judge, and he’s traveled to foreign countries talking about justice in the prison systems.”
As the two men discussed Judge Kohl’s prison ministry, Mr. Walsh couldn’t shake the thought that YWAM’s Christian Heroes Then and Now series could have a tremendous impact on prison ministries.
Each book in the Christian Heroes series explores the life of an ordinary man or woman who surrendered fully to the lordship of Jesus Christ, allowing him to use them in an extraordinary way. Over the years, YWAM has received story after story from families whose entire perspective on life and ministry changed after reading a biography from this series.
Mr. Walsh knew these books changed worldviews. And, when considering prison ministry, he states, “If you can find a better group of people who need their worldview changed, I’m not sure who they would be!”
“The recidivism rate in the US is alarming,” Mr. Walsh points out. “At three years, 67 percent of inmates are back in prison. At five years, that number goes up to 77 percent. And those are only the ones who got caught. So, there’s virtually no rehabilitation taking place at these facilities. And it’s our hope, with this project, and we have reason to believe that it’s successful, that we first of all introduce inmates to Christ. The second thing we would like to do is change their worldview and introduce them to models that they are totally unfamiliar with—to think that they could act in forgiveness and that there is a God.”
While at the missions conference, Mr. Walsh shared his thought with Judge Kohl. Over the course of the next few months, the judge put him in contact with organizations that could help him gain access to prisons. And it wasn’t just a few prisons.
“We have been given access to thirteen hundred prisons, and these facilities will average about a thousand inmates apiece.” Mr. Walsh explains, adding that these prisons are spread throughout every state in the nation. “At 1.3 million inmates, that’s half the prison population of the United States. And these are not just jails. These are felony-convicted prisoners.”
YWAM set to work putting together a package of books to send to each prison. “There are sixty-five books in the box. The books will go into facilities that average a thousand inmates. The books are in Spanish and in English. It’s a mix of books, since about 25 to 30 percent of inmates in America are Hispanic. The hope is that these books will create intrinsic motivators for them to change, as opposed to extrinsic such as outside punishment,” Mr. Walsh explains.
“We’ve mailed books to 250 prisons so far, so that’s a quarter of a million people who have access to the books at this point. If we really want to see, in a broad sense, an impact on society, this will do that because they have reason to come out changed people. Not just saved people. Changed people.
“You or I could go visit a prison. Maybe we could meet with someone an hour or two a week. By putting books into their hands, they can go back into their cell, and for six or eight hours they are emotionally engaged in the story. They are walking with Jim Elliot or Hudson Taylor or Jake Deshazer, who was imprisoned by the Japanese in WWII and found forgiveness in his heart for his captors. You have to know these people feel those same feelings. But God can invade their situation.
The Least of These
“I came upon a Scripture in this whole process—Matthew 25:34-40:
Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? ‘The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
“I don’t think it’s easy for any of us to access people who are in prison. But we have created this project, and it gives any one of us access. Even if you wanted to go visit the prison, you’d never be able to sit down with these people for six or eight hours and masterfully show them what walking with God looks like in a manner that they will engage. You can give them a Bible, but they can’t read and understand a KJV Bible. They will read a book that’s targeted toward the eleven to fourteen year old reader, moves fast, and is full of adventure.
“This puts the hands and feet to that Scripture in a very real way. For $77.10, sixty-five of these books will go into the library with a thousand people reading them. And they will stay there! The inmates will turn over, but the books will stay there. It really is a significant ministry.
“We are reaching a restricted access people group. Prisons are really good at keeping prisoners away from the good people. But they’re really bad at making bad people into good people. They are also very good at keeping those with a heart to minister from getting to them. This project accomplishes that in a deep and wide way. These books show drug traffickers and murderers that Jesus is sitting next to them in their jail cells with his hands open.”
So, is the project working? The letters from murderers, drug traffickers, and other inmates, including those in prison for life, show the answer to be a resounding yes!
How Homeschoolers Can Help!
But, one question remains. How is this ministry relevant to homeschooling families?
“We put together a package of sixty-five books,” Mr. Walsh shares. “The pricing of $77.10 per box reflects postage, paper, and ink. We’ve done all the work, produced the product, and done everything we can, but we really can’t fund it at that level. We are looking for people who will partner with us in the project.”
In fact, the project name, Prison Heroes 101, reflects the enormity of the need. A total of $101,694 is needed to send packages to all 1319 prisons YWAM has been given access to. As of July 2015, books have been sent to 250 prisons, leaving 1,069 prisons waiting for funding.
Families, homeschool co-ops and associations, church groups, or even just a group of friends can come together and impact hundreds of lives by sponsoring a single box of books. And the impact is immediate. Once a donation is submitted, the books covered by that donation are already in a prison library and working on hearts within two weeks. And donors can follow their “paper missionaries” by requesting to know where their books are going, praying specifically for the inmates of that prison.
For more information about how you can become involved in Prison Heroes 101, visit bookswithamission.com.