Still Learning My Way Around

Recently I was encouraged to put an index to some of my more useful blog posts, on this site. I have placed links to similar posts within posts, but I was not sure how to accomplish what was requested.

After I got on my site the next time I decided to check out the “Categories” and the “Tags” links (if you put your cursor over the words that follow either of these two, you will find they change color, meaning if you click on one you will be provided every entry that deals with a specific category, or every one that mentions the tagged topic. So the categories is sort of like a topical table of contents and the tagged words are sort of thematic indexes. This is what you get when you read the blog of a novice–I keep learning more of the features that are built into this blog format.

If you go to the top of this article you will see that just below the title, “Still Learning My Way Around,” there is a box that has “Category:” followed by several items like, “Bible Studies, Communication, Community Development, etc.” Click on any of those and you will get all of the posts I have grouped under than category.

In that same box, just below “Categories” is the option of “Tags:” which is followed by words like “Discovery Bible Studies.” If you click on that you will get the 10-11 articles that mention these.

Hopefully this is old news to most of you. But just in case you are still sort of new to this whole blogging scene (like I obviously am), I want to be sure you know how to use this feature. While I listed all the categories, I only gave you a few of the tags since there are more than 40 of them.

Let me know if any of these posts prompt questions. Some of my best writing happens when people ask good questions.

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When Did We See You in Prison? (part 4)

Justin’s group sent me some 3-column studies.  Their insights into passages (the first time they have ever attempted to do this) continue to amaze me.  As is true of most, some prefer to speak of what “we” or “they” should do in the third column, but I continue to point out that this will be more beneficial if each point begins with the words, “I will…”  This process truly is about discovery, not preaching or teaching.

Recently Justin was moved out of the pod.  He was transferred to the state offices to assess his status on a parole violation.  There he received a favorable ruling due to following some counsel Austin gave him months ago.  Rather than waiting until his release to assess this legal matter, Austin recommended Justin write the parole board to notify them of his incarceration.  At the hearing it was determined that his time served from that postmark forward would count.  He will only have to complete one additional week when he finishes his current sentence.  Justin gave God the glory for this determination.

I asked Justin who might be willing to attempt to restart the study group.  He said Matthew (one of the guys who had recently sent me his first ever 3-column study) was the only one he anticipated was a viable candidate.  The others in the pod who had participated when Austin led the group had stopped attending.  It appears likely that Justin’s personality did not work well as the facilitator of the group.  He had followed through on his commitment to me by teaching Matthew.  Maintaining contact with this pod would hinge on Matthew’s willingness to be the person of peace.

I wrote Matthew identifying myself and giving a sketch of my work with Justin and Austin.  Also, I included the article on doing a Discovery Bible Study written by Paul Watson.  I invited this inmate to become the point person for a group in the pod.  He would have to request that I be listed as his pastor before I could schedule a visit.

A few days later I received email confirmation from the chaplain acknowledging the request had been approved.  I scheduled a visit for Friday, November 30, 2007.  That very morning I received a letter from him accepting my invitation.

Matthew wrote, “Yes sir I received your letter today.  I will love to be the one to keep the Bible study going.  I have to be honest I don’t know a hole lot about the Bible so it will be a learning experience for me to.  It’s weird because for the past week or so I have been wondering what God wanted me to do with my life and how I can repay him for the blessing that he has gave me then all the sudden I get your letter.  So to me I feel this is another blessing and God’s way of answering me….To be honest I am going to need a lot of help with this because like I said I don’t know to much about the Bible but I want to chang my lifestyle and I ask that you would help me with that because I think it’s time for me to start doing for God instead of always wanting him to do for me.”

The work continues.

[ * Note:  The names of these men have all been changed.  All the other details are accurate.]

When Did We See You in Prison? (part 3)

Spiritual warfare began.  It especially dated to Austin and myself beginning to pray for an opening to teach Hispanic guys in the pod.  Soon after these prayers began, INS picked two of the Hispanic guys up.  Another was transferred to the state penitentiary.  The only Hispanics left in this pod spoke little English.

A couple of weeks later a couple of trouble-makers instigated a sit-in breakfast strike that resulted in half of the guys being removed from the pod and taken to the Maximum security pod.  The number of guys in the group study dropped from eight to three.  Austin was disappointed in what had started so well being so quickly depleted.  He began to pray and decided to hand-write an invitation to the group studies and slide it under each cell door (he could do this since he had more freedoms as a trustee).  Several new guys began attending the group.

I had never seen Austin without a smile.  His disappointment was apparent when I arrived for my next visit.  I anticipated something had gone wrong because Austin was no longer on the fifth floor.  I had to visit him on the fourth floor.  He told me what had transpired since my visit the previous week.

Another attack came from some members of the Crypts gang in the pod.  The leader resented the influence Austin was gaining.  He showed his displeasure after Austin reached out to him with the gospel.  The guy directed the other Crypts to begin charging Austin with violating rules.  His desire was to cause Austin to lose his trustee position.  When the charges proved untrue, the administration did not strip Austin of his job, but they realized there would be additional trouble in this pod if Austin remained.  They chose to move him to another pod on the fourth floor and make Austin the assistant trustee there.

My visits for the next couple of weeks were spent encouraging him and focusing on getting a new group started in the new pod.  We also discussed who would be a good candidate to reach out to in that fifth floor pod.  Austin suggested I write Justin * to see if he would step into the leadership position.

Justin was interested in meeting with me.  The group had continued to meet each evening to pray for one another and any other requests that other guys in the pod shared.  They had not continued the study since all the materials had been taken when Austin was moved.  I sent Justin a set of the God and Man studies so he could resume where Austin had left off.

It was interesting to start working with one of the guys Austin had been discipling.  He had mentioned Justin to me on a couple of occasions.  This guy had always asked deeper questions.  His inquiries often resulted in Austin writing them down and bringing them to me on my next visit.  Austin believed Justin had a desire to understand the Word.  He was right.  I started with him the same way I did with Austin—I would continue to teach as long as Justin would make an effort to teach what he was learning to someone else.  He agreed.

Meanwhile, Austin was excited and anxious to have me meeting with Justin.  He wanted me to assess whether or not he had done a good job.  Justin often wanted more depth than Austin could provide, so he had been a challenge in some ways.  Austin wanted this feedback so he could incorporate any needed changes in the new group he was launching.  He had some fears that he had done some things “wrong,” but he wanted to know so he could do a better job this second time around.

Austin’s second start has gone much better.  He earned the respect of the guys in this new pod by his lifestyle.  His infectious smile and his joy in the Lord were apparent.  Also, during the first couple of weeks, when he was still in shock over the move, he cleaned up the pod (part of his job assignments).  This pod was grungy.  They did not have adequate tools or cleaning supplies.  Austin knew what was available on the fifth floor so he respectfully requested the same items for this pod.  Instead of using a worn-out scrap of a mop, he requested and received two new mops.  He requested and received bleach that he used to scrub away the mould and mildew that had developed.  As he cleaned the place he learned that there had been quite a bit of sickness on this floor and people felt that what he was doing was going to make it a healthier place for them to live.

This group study quickly has grown to a high of sixteen.  They are alternating their study between the Old Testament and Matthew’s gospel.  They continue to study some of the God and Man stories as a foundation for their understanding of God and as a way to prepare themselves to teach others these important insights into God’s character.  During their studies from Matthew they are watching Jesus develop spiritual leadership in the men he called to be his disciples.

Because of this move, Austin has become more aware of how important it is to not only get the group to learn the biblical material, but also to be discipled in the process.  He is becoming more intentional in looking for leadership potential in the group and pouring more into the guys who exhibit potential.  Justin is also understanding at a deeper level because of what happened.  Also, he is gaining greater insight into why Austin did things the way he did.

[* NOTE: Names have been changed. All other details are accurate.]

When Did We See You in Prison? (part 2)

I had encouraged Jason to teach what he was learning to other guys in the pod.  This was a principle that I had been learning from listening to the CPM training CDs that recorded David Watson’s seminar in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  You learn quicker and more deeply when you teach others the new material you are learning.  Jason had been teaching others in the daily Bible study group, but he was especially discipling Malcolm.

I continued meeting with Jason, but added a weekly visit with Malcolm, too.  It was encouraging to begin to see how much Jason had passed on.  Discipling someone to disciple another really works even though it may seem counter-intuitive.  Involve your disciples in the process of discipling someone else from day one.  Do not wait until they get some body of knowledge down, start them immediately.  Make this a condition for you continuing to disciple them.  They learn more and deeper because their information is coupled with experiences.

Malcolm was farther along than I could have imagined.  I began encouraging him to disciple other guys in the pod.  I wanted him to prepare for the eventual day when he would be released.  He would have to pass on what he was learning to keep the fire burning in that pod.  As time drew near for his release Malcolm told me that there were two young guys he wanted me to meet with.

I began meeting with Paul * and Jimmy * after Malcolm was released.  Here I saw some evidence of generational degradation of information (a copy of a copy of a copy…shows real losses).  David Watson had talked about this in the training CDs emphasizing the need for training centers that bring each generation up to the original level.  There were some pieces of the discipling process that were not repeated in subsequent generations that resulted in significant weaknesses.  This was an important realization for me to experience.

Jimmy did not disciple anyone.  Paul wrestled with being shy and not easily finding someone else to teach what he had been learning.  I began to wonder if I had failed to keep the process alive and question whether I had invested too much time in people who were not teaching what they were learning.  As Paul’s release approached I asked him to pray about someone else in the pod who would like for me to visit each week.  Paul informed me the next week that the trustee, Austin *, would like a visit.

Having learned from my failures, as well as successes, I decided to start out differently with Austin.  From the first day I communicated my expectation that Austin would have to teach what I taught him if my visits were to continue.  He agreed.  Quickly he began to tell me of his efforts to teach Tommy.  Eventually I learned that Tommy brought his cousin into the study group that was forming.  Austin was taking seriously the expectation and the pace was picking up.

While spending some time with David Watson he asked how Austin’s 3-column studies were going.  I said I did not know.  David suggested I provide money for Austin to be able to photocopy his studies and send them to me through the mail.  I noted that the inmates do not have access to a copy machine.  I decided to have Austin hand write a copy and mail it to me.

Soon Austin sent me a stack of 3-column studies that had been completed by several others in his pod who were now participating in the group.  Each exhibited insights into the text and showed evidence of grasping the need to apply the passage.  Several needed to work on stating the third column in the “I will…” format that forces personal application.  These were mailed back to Austin to redistribute to the participants.  (Regretfully, these were never returned to Austin.  I do not know if they were lost in the mail or misplaced at the jail. Months later they were finally returned to me, because inmates are not allowed to receive mail from one another, they refused to deliver them all to Austin.)

[* NOTE: Names have been changed, but all other details are accurate.]

When Did We See You in Prison? (part 1)

One of the counter-intuitives of Church Planting Movements states:  “Expect the hardest places to yield the greatest results.”  In my attempts to obey Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25 I am experiencing the truths of this irony.

They had not attended the church long when Jason * confessed he would be going to jail soon to pay for his crimes.  He had been using drugs and alcohol and violated driving under the influence laws.  While on probation he again became intoxicated and was caught shoplifting.  The judge was angry and Jason realized things were in a mess.  He wanted a spiritual family to accept him, his wife and children without condemnation for his sin.

We spent several weeks getting to know this family and learned to love his humble spirit.  This man acknowledged he had violated the law.  He was disappointed that his previous church chose to ostracize him and his family.  He wanted to come clean.

Our worship minister became friends with Jason and began to visit him in jail after he had to report.  Eventually he approached me to relay Jason’s request for additional biblical resources.  Within a few months, Jason had completed every Bible correspondence course the jail chaplain had on hand.  The worship minister felt like he would benefit from visits by someone with a formal theological education.  I agreed to visit Jason.

Before that first visit could be scheduled I had to complete a visitation form and agree to a background security check.  When that was cleared I began to visit weekly.  I quickly sent Jason an additional correspondence course on the Gospel of John.  Jason, his cell mate and some other guys in their pod who were meeting daily for a group Bible study quickly completed this ten lesson course.

Jason requested assistance in getting ACT study manuals for some of the other inmates who wanted to prepare to get into college upon their release.  The Rutherford County Jail is not your stereotypical place of incarceration.  The inmates are not allowed any TVs, no radios, CD players or any other type of electronic devise.  There are no hard-backed books allowed.  Family or friends could provide paperbacks, but they would become the property of the jail library.  The church where I pastor began to assist with some educational materials.

Jason requested I find a college or university that would offer correspondence courses that he could take—especially Biblical ones.  With today’s technological advances these types of programs have transitioned to video or web-based formats.  Such prevented this type of study.

Eventually I discovered the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement reader and workbook and purchased a set and had them mailed to Jason.  He was grateful to receive such an in-depth study that would give him greater insights into God’s work in our world.  After a few weeks he asked if I could get another set for his cellmate.  The two of them had been sharing one reader and workbook since the original set had arrived.  I purchased one for Malcolm * and it was mailed to him directly.  Less than two weeks later Jason was moved down two floors so thankfully each had his own study materials.  Before moving Jason communicated that Malcolm would like to visit with me each week to continue learning.

[* NOTE: The names of these men have all been changed.  All the other details are accurate.]

Captured Ministry

I thought my work among the incarcerated ended. Maybe it is transitioning rather than coming to a close. God seems to be bringing people across my path who have connections to my experiences.

About a month ago I received a call from a man who has been interviewed to be the executive director of a prison ministry. He heard of the model I used and wanted more information. Then I did a four-week training in facilitating DBSs and discovered that some of the participants had done time in the local work house. Recently I heard from a friend. His son has been incarcerated. Because he is concerned for his son, he asked me to pray that this young man will experience a spiritual awakening while in jail.

I offered to write his son, if the dad would provide me his address. Below is the basic information I included in my letter. Maybe this will be helpful to someone else.

Over a five year period I was able to help about 20 convicts by training them to do a simple Bible study method. It is called a 3-Column Study (Click here: 3-column-study-format). You can actually do the same thing with a blank sheet of paper. Turn it wide side up. Draw two vertical lines.

In the first column copy a section of verses straight out of the Bible—word for word. While some people find this boring, it slows you down and focuses your mind on what the passage says. In the second column re-tell that passage in your own words. Until you can paraphrase it you do not really understand it. This also helps prepare you to share what the passage means with someone else.

In the third column use the word S.P.E.C.K. to start thinking about how you should apply this passage to your life. The letter S. stands for Sin. Does this passage identify a sin that you struggle with in your life? If so, write out that sin. Does this passage contain praises to God, a prayer to God or one of God’s promises? If so, list all found in it. That is for the letter P. The letter E. stands for example. If this passage gives an example of how someone should live, then write that down. The letter C. prompts you to look for any commands that are in this passage. Write them. Finally, the letter K. causes you to note any knowledge about God’s character that is revealed in the passage.

After you have done the S.P.E.C.K. exercise you are ready to write out two or three “I will…” Statements. These communicate ways you will obey this passage. How will your life change when you put it into practice? What you write in this column should be a specific action(s) you will do to live the teaching of this passage you have written, re-told and will have to do with one of the S.P.E.C.K. items.

Doing this type of Bible study has benefited several men who were in jail. They found it very helpful. It helped one guy who had pretty much fried his brain on wild mushrooms. God’s Word re-wired his mind, but more importantly, his spirit was renewed.

I encourage you to give this a try. If you want to correspond, I will be honored to write back. But I have one condition—any letter you send me must be accompanied by a copy of a 3-Column Study. You keep the original, but send me a copy. Yes, I know it will be boring to copy it, but even that will be a valuable process.

If you do not have a Bible, request one from the chaplain. They will provide you one. I suggest you start with either the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) or the book of Ephesians. Do five or six verses at a time. Doing one of these a day will be an exercise that God will use to bless you.

Here are links to other articles I have written about some of what happened while I was working in the local jail:
https://johnkking.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/dbs-in-jail/
https://johnkking.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/nothing-grows-in-the-desert-except/
https://johnkking.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/why-not-here/

Maybe there is more God will do in this area. I am looking forward to talking in person with the man about the prison ministry. I hope the young man chooses to open himself to God’s Word. Maybe some of those who learned how to train others to facilitate Discovery Bible Studies will be able to pass it on to folks in the work house. Join me in praying that Jesus’ work of “setting the captive free” will come to pass!

Nothing Grows in the Desert Except…

Wow! It has been five years since I first went to the Rutherford County Jail! My regular visits there will stop at the end of April. It is hard to comprehend what God has done through those regular stops.

My first visit was late in 2005. Jonathon had been meeting Jeremy regularly and came to me to say that he was asking Bible questions that were too deep. He said I needed to schedule a visit. I had no idea what was about to happen.

The jail became my learning lab. It became the place where abstractions I was learning from seminars had to roll up their sleeves and put on work gloves. Theories were transformed into realities—hard realities. God blessed me by first calling me to this ministry through a true learner (teachers have to motivate students, but their challenge with learners is staying ahead of them).

David Watson (the brother who has discipled me for years) always stressed that discovery-based discipleship is messy. I got a rude introduction to that reality before my first visit to the jail. While waiting in the lobby to go up to see Jeremy I was shocked by the large list of rules for the family members who were arriving. Some made perfect sense like, “No weapons or drugs allowed.” Others were surprising like, “You must wear underwear.” I have seen why each of these rules had to be spelled out.

This jail is a hard place. No TV or internet. A small radio might play for a couple of hours a day with the news. There is no exercise yard outside and no weights inside. On good days a garage-type door is raised and lets the sun and fresh air into the thirty-foot cube called the ODR. Here the guys walk in circles around the perimeter or play volleyball or hackey-sack with a balled up sock for an hour. Others might sit in a corner to do a discovery Bible study. This facility has often reminded me of a Kevin Youngblood quote from a class on Jeremiah, “Nothing grows in the desert—except faith!” This jail is a desert.

Jeremy, Chris, Michael, Aaron and at least fifteen more became discovery Bible study facilitators during those years. Most of them were in the “hardest” of the sixteen pods. Here many guys passed their days playing cards–gambling for soap, shampoo and other items inmates can buy from the commissary with money their loved ones put on their account. The sharks loved displaying their winnings as though they were gold medals. But a small group of men prized themselves in hearing from God and finding ways to obey what they heard.

The toughest times were learning that a loved one had died and not being able to go to the funeral. Missing your oldest son’s graduation. Hearing the judge’s ruling denying your motion for early release, or being told you could reapply for parole next year. The guys grew to realize others were watching at such moments wondering whether a Bible would be slammed in the trash can and God’s name blasphemed for not answering prayers.

Several of these men grew by leaps and bounds. Their growing faith often amazed me. But none of them were blessed more than I was. God gave me this place to walk out one of the oddest of the CPM Counter-Intuitives—“Expect the hardest places to yield the greatest results.” Guys in this jail took the truths I was sharing to heart because they discovered them for themselves and they were certainly in a hard place. Little did I know that their story would inspire others in Europe and Africa to begin making disciples in jails and prisons. God’s ways are not our ways.

It was bitter-sweet to notify the current chaplain that my regular Bible studies at the jail will end on April 22. I will never drive by 940 New Salem Highway without thinking about how much my faith grew there. God is good. He often takes us on the strangest paths to get us where he wants us to go!