Jul 29, 2013

Why I Got Invovled In Prison Ministry

If you had told me 4 months ago that I would be involved in Prison Ministry, I would you have told you that you are a french fry short of a happy meal. Sure, I grew up in church and I had often heard Matthew 28:35-40:

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.’

So yeah... We are suppose to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, blah... blah... blah. So we throw a few buck in the offering for the missionary or the outreach or whatever and then we feel better about ourselves and move on with our lives. Rarely in the American church are we mobilized to action.

And then Prison Ministry carries an additional point of resistance.... Usually if you are in jail, you are there for a reason. Anyone can have a crisis and wind up poor or hungry. Sometimes life happens to you. But going to jail means you were bad. You broke the rules. You messed up, you got caught and now you are serving out your punishment.... So why should you get a special dose of ministry?

Here's the conclusion I've come to in the last few days. Regardless of what got someone in prison, it happened in the past. You can't change it. All you can do is move forward from here. Studies show that approximately 94% of all inmates are eventually released. So most people incarcerated today will be getting out at some point. The very sad thing is the 66% (that is 2 out of 3) of those released will wind up back in prison within three years. That tells me despite the great men & women working in the system, the system is broken. A 33% success rate is a complete failure.

If you want different results, you  have to do things differently. If we want to stop the destructive cycle, we have to do all we can to equip these men & women with the tools they need to succeed. That includes counseling, teaching job skills, helping with substance abuse and it must include teaching in basic personal finances.

Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University has been taught across the nation for over 20 years with millions of families participating. I've been coordination Financial Peace classes in Wasilla for over 5 years, leading over a dozen classes and over 250 people being a part. Financial Peace University is a proven, effective tool in teaching people to handle money the way God intended.

I was reading Romans 10:14-15 the other day, which says:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?

That word "sent" could also be interpreted as "sent on a specific mission." That means not just saying I'm going to the grocery store, but saying I'm going to the store to get eggs, milk & cheese. So I have a clear mission that I am being sent on. When these inmates are released, they face the challenge of finding housing, transportation and employment. Many of them will have old debts to deal with and restitution for their crimes. My mission is to make sure they face these obstacles with the knowledge of what it is going to take to be successful.

If you'd like to help me with this, you can read the details here...

Jul 27, 2013

Prison Update!

Last week I gave a call for help in being able to facilitate Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University out at the new Goose Creek Correction Center. (Read my post here for all the details...)

I was amazed at the response. Within 26 hours I had the money I needed to purchase the 21 workbooks I needed for the class. Today when I reported back to the guys in the class the outpouring of support, they were deeply touched by people's willingness to invest in their growth. Being incarcerated can feel like the world has thrown you in hole and forgotten about you.

I've seen in these men a determination to change the course of the lives. In the two class sessions  I've held, the men have been fully engaged. They are not just there filling their time.

So thank you to all who gave. Enough came in to cover this class, and I have about half of what I will need to cover my next class. There's 128 men in the Faith Wing. I plan on doing a class of 25 men every 12 weeks, which means it'll take me over a year to process through everyone. And by then there'll be a new batch of inmates.

I also have been asked to conduct a class for a local rehabilitation center. The class will be for those about to graduate out of the program, equipping them to win with money as they make a new start in life.

So if you wanted to help me in this, there's still plenty of opportunity. And I now have some more options for you to give:
  • The cleanest, easiest way for me is for you to directly give me or mail me cash or a check. No tax deductible receipt can be given, and 100% of your gift will go towards the program.
  • The second best way is for you to give via Paypal at this link and use FPUinWasilla@gmail.com as the receiving address. Paypal charges me a 3% transaction fee.
  • If you would like to give as a tax deductible item, you can now give your gift through the Alaska Ministry Network and they can pass it on to me. Checks can be mailed to Alaska Ministry Network, 1048 W. International Airport Road, Suite 101, Anchorage AK 99518. Just mark your donation as being for "FPU in Wasilla." 100% of your gift will go towards the program.
  • And finally, if you want to give online and receive a tax deduction, you can give online at the Alaska Ministry Network's website and mark your gift for "FPU in Wasilla".  I will be charged a 3% processing fee on these gifts.
I am very grateful to the leadership of the Alaska Ministry Network in their willingness to partner with me. The Alaska Ministry Network represents over 80 Assembly of God churches across Alaska and has been ministering in our great state since 1917.

This Sunday, the 28th, I've been asked to give a report to the people of Christian Fellowship of Wasilla. And on Wednesday, August 14th I will be giving a report to Wasilla Assembly of God in their Wednesday night service. I'm looking forward to these chances to share the great things God is doing in our Alaska prisons.

Thank you again for those who have given and for those who have been praying for us. I can not express how grateful I am. You are a blessing! Stay tuned and I will continue to report on the progress of the program. I know that God is going to do incredible things through this! I'm believing for a day when Financial Peace University is taught in every prison in Alaska and every inmate who has served their time and is released goes back into the world equipped with an understanding of what God says about money.

Jul 22, 2013

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

In my last post I put out a call for help with buying the necessary workbooks for the Financial Peace University class I am coordinating out at the new Goose Creek Correctional Center. I had 21 eager men that were looking to be equipped with the personal finance skills they would need to make it on the outside once they are released.

I have been overwhelmed by the response I got. Within 26 hours I had raised $640 from 8 donors, meaning I exceed my goal by $200. I will be forever grateful to those who have given so generously. I will be able to order the materials I need and these men who are trying to make something better of themselves will have the tools they need. (For some reason Ray Bolt's "Thank You for Giving to the Lord" is going through my head...)

But this doesn't end here... It looks like every 12 weeks I will have another group of 20 to 25 men taking the class. And I just committed to coordinating a class at a local rehabilitation center for a dozen or so men.

So I'm going to need to figure out a steady stream of support. But in the meantime, the door will be open if you'd like to partner with me with a financial gift. If you'd like to be a part, please use this Paypal link and input my email:  FPUinWasilla@gmail.com

Oh, and some other exciting news... A major, established ministry organization is considering letting me affiliate with them. That means that if it all works out, in the future donations can be made through them, giving the donors the option of receiving a receipt for a tax deductible contribution. I'll release all the details from that when it happens.

So this weekend was pretty amazing. I never thought I'd have a heart for prison ministry. But I spent Friday afternoon with a group of guys who were willing to do whatever it takes to live their lives differently. Then I spent Friday night at Highland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River in the God Behind Bars service watching 150 of the 300 inmates in the General Population worshiping God with great passion. I am excited to see where all of this goes....

Again, thank you to those who have given. I will come back to give regular reports of how it is going. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. And if you are local and ever want to go along or get involved we can make that happen.

God bless!

Jul 20, 2013

I need your help...

****Click here to see the report from my cry for help***

 Normally with my posts I try to include lots of pictures that I have taken.... This time I had to find pictures online because the place I want to talk about doesn't allow pictures to be taken on the inside. I want to talk about Goose Creek Correctional Center. It's Alaska's newest prison, built just last year. It was constructed to house 1,500 inmates that were being held out of state in a private prison.
Having a new facility with this many men presented a challenge to the Chaplaincy department. Rev. Jim Duncan, the Chaplaincy coordinator was suddenly faced with having to meet spiritual needs of a small town with no additional funding or personnel. And since beggars can not be choosers, Jim took me up on my offer to present Financial Peace University from Dave Ramsey as a class for the men.
I'm teaching the class as part of the Faith Wing program. The Faith Wing is a dedicated 128 bed pod or wing of the prison. To be a part of the Faith Wing, the inmates agree to abide by a stricter set of rules and participate in additional classes.
My first of twelve weeks of class was on Friday, July 19th. I had 21 men that have chosen to acquire the tools and information that they will need to win with money on the outside. 94% of all inmates are eventually released and statistics tell us that 50% to 70% of those will eventually wind up back in jail. One factor in a convicts inability to leave a life of crime is a lack of understanding of the basics of personal finances, including budgeting, spending, avoiding debt and saving for the future.
I believe Financial Peace University can have a huge impact in the lives of these 21 men. But I need your help. For the class to have it's biggest impact, I need each inmate to have his own workbook.
The workbook will cost me $19 each, meaning I need $399. And I need it fast. I've got some money I putting towards this, but I can't cover the whole cost.
I've never asked for help like this in the past, but I do it without shame or hesitation. I asked the men if they get any instruction or help in understanding finances before being released and they told me they do not. When their time is up, they are simply released and told to be good boys. They need these classes to equip them for a successful chance of making it on the outside.
If you can help in any way, no matter how small, please click on this link to send money via Paypal. The email address to put in is FPUinWasilla@gmail.com . Or if you are local,we can arrange to meet. I'm not set up for your contribution to be tax deductible, so your only benefit will be knowing you've done something to help make our world a better place and make a difference in someones life.
Thank you for taking time to read this long post. God bless.

***Update: Click here to see the report of what happened***

Jul 7, 2013

Portage Glacier Cruise

I love glaciers. I'm not too proud to admit that... And I'll jump at any chance to get close to one. So this last weekend we headed to down to Portage Lake to cruise aboard the MV Ptarmigan to the face of Portage Glacier.
The cruise is just an hour long. You can do much longer glacier cruises out of nearby Whittier, but this one much less expensive and fits better into a full day of other activities.
The boat is set up nice with an indoor seating or an outdoor viewing area, bathrooms, and an on-board naturalist from the USFS.

The 15 minute cruise out to the glacier takes you past multiple water falls. Portage Lake is very deep and has steep sides so the boat can maneuver quite close to the edge.
The size and strength of the waterfalls vary based on snow pack and weather. Today they were all flowing pretty strong.

But, we weren't here to see waterfalls... We were here to see a glacier. The Portage Glacier. The big, blue river of ice. The ice crystals in a glacier are composed of super compressed snow. They are so densely packed that they actually filter the other colors in the light spectrum, so they appear to be blue.
We spent a little over 30 minutes at the face of the glacier, just 300 yards away.

Portage Glacier is not the only glacier in Portage Valley. You can hike up to Byron Glacier. Burns Glacier also overlooks Portage Lake, but does not reach it. But the water that melts off the glacier cascades down in a glorious waterfall.

I'm told that the width of the creek at that waterfall is over 40 feet. Which means the height of the fall must be around 100 feet.

Since the cruise was only an hour long we decided to do some Geocaching. The Portage Valley has several well developed trails that take you to some really nice spots.
We found a cache up under a small bridge over a clear, beautiful stream. The next cache was just 500 feet down a side trail that ran between two ponds. We started down that way and got may 100 feet when a gull flew right over our heads, shrieking loudly. It startled us both, but we kept going. And then it buzzed us again, even closer. And then again... And then again. Suddenly we realized it's chicks were in the road just ahead of us and it was trying to run us off. We back pedaled quickly as the bird did one final run over our heads. Once we backed off enough for it to be happy, we stood and watched it for a while. At one point an eagle was flying overhead and the gull went up and was harassing the eagle to run it off.
I managed to get a few seconds of video from one of it's attacks:

Death from Above...

So we were out Geocaching in the Portage Valley... We were on a trail in the brush. We had already passed three large piles of bear scat. And then apparently we got to close to this guy's nest and young chicks...
This video clip is from his fourth attempt to kill us...

Jul 4, 2013

The Full Text of the Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.