Mark Walker recently gave a ground-breaking message* at the annual Correctional Ministry and Chaplains Association Summit around the idea that prison ministry is a legitimate cross-cultural mission work. I encourage everyone connected to NAAMC to listen to his recording of this session at https://vimeo.com/831975408/8fcf4152df
Here is a summary of my observations:
1. America’s prisons are their own ethnolinguistic people group (EPG), and the cultural distance from general American culture is significant. In many ways, America’s prison culture (APC) is more like a near-eastern culture than a North American one.
2. The Church already exists in APC, so it is a reached EPG (not an unreached mission field). There are already indigenous leaders in the APC who can effectively contextualize the gospel in their culture.
3. The APC needs to be self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating, but this is limited by the physical incarceration of its leaders and members. So believers from the outside have a role to play in helping the APC flourish.
4. The emphasis of outside-in prison ministry needs to shift from evangelism, discipleship and church planting to APC church empowerment. This can be done by identifying existing indigenous church leaders in each prison location, delivering resources to meet felt-needs, and providing intel encouragement about what is happening in the larger world context.
5. The APC Church needs to work in conjunction with the Church in the free-world since many APC members will be released someday. To retain the fruit of APC we need a legion of free-world churches who are trained and willing to receive the formerly incarcerated in re-entry.
6. The APC is a rich source of Kingdom workers. They are reaching cross-culturally within the prison to Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, and also being deployed as overseas missionaries through deportation. They also can become cross-cultural workers among America’s diaspora after release and successful re-enculturation.
*Prison Ministry as Cross-Cultural Mission, Mark Walker/Quentin Valdois, May 2023