The LetterAlycia DeLong
/Wednesday, March 1, 2023
It started when Pavlus* noticed that several people who had requested a Bible had virtually no contact information. No phone number or email address; only a physical address. All the other people on the follow-up list from the Bible Correspondence website had registered with a phone number and email address, as well as clicked the option stating that they’d like to be contacted to talk more about Jesus and the Bible.
Pavlus, being a recently retired pastor, was new to this online ministry stuff, and not so comfortable on the technology side of the work. Therefore, he was instantly intrigued by the file of hand-written letters to the ministry. As he sorted through, he noticed they all had something in common: an address. Many of them had come from the exact same place! Well, that was convenient for planning a trip out to visit, but definitely strange. What kind of community was this that had so many seekers, but seemingly no phones or internet?
The answer: Prison. All the letters were from inmates in prison.
Pavlus has been focused on prison ministry ever since. Most of the correspondence is only through written letters due to it being – well, jail. Inmates aren’t allowed phones or personal email addresses. Visitation is limited as each inmate is only allowed to put four names of people who are approved to come see them occasionally, and they can possibly update or make changes to their list once a year.
One day, Pavlus received a letter from an inmate who had received a Bible. He’d read the whole thing – a couple of times, in fact – and was even sharing it with other inmates! He wanted to officially give his life to Jesus but didn’t know how, or what he was supposed to do after that. He was going to put Pavlus on his list of visitors, but it would be months before that process was approved. Until then, all Pavlus could do was write him back. He wrote him a four-page letter laying out the Gospel, explaining the grace behind Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, and living out a relationship with Jesus as Lord and Saviour. He talked about serving others, forgiveness, loving enemies, sharing the Gospel, and who knows what else Pavlus crammed into those four pages! As the years passed, Pavlus was able to frequently visit the man, as well as other inmates in that prison, discipling them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Earlier in 2021, Pavlus got a letter from an inmate telling him he’d become a believer and made all the arrangements for him to come visit. Despite the fact he was in a different prison that Pavlus had never been to before, this man had written to him as if he knew him.
When Pavlus made the trip to visit this new contact, the man excitedly shared his story:
“A group of us have been reading the Bible together with your letter…” he explained.
“What letter?” asked Pavlus. “I have no contacts here. You are the first.”
The inmate revealed a very worn envelope. He carefully removed the pages from inside and gently opened them.
“This letter.” The man showed him.
Pavlus was speechless. It was his original letter from years before! All four pages still there – barely. The ink was faded and the fold creases were deep, but there was no mistaking that it was that very same letter.
“How? Where did you get this?” Pavlus stammered.
It took a while to retrace its path, but they were able to figure out that the man who had originally received the letter had given it to another believing inmate just before he was transferred to another prison.
“Go and make disciples…” the letter had reminded them of the scriptures.
After the letter had been passed around there, another inmate was “commissioned” to take the Gospel and this letter to the next prison where he was being relocated. The letter continued to circulate from prison to prison for four years and, as far as Pavlus and his new friend could calculate, this was the eighth generation of new believers that was still using it!
Just. One. Letter.
You are just one letter. We are just one letter. We are as weak and feeble as worn paper, but God is growing new generations through the words He writes on us.
Pavlus continues discipling many inmates in many prisons, primarily through written letters. Each month, he sends out around 70 handwritten letters to them. Many of those letters circulate around and are passed on to other correctional facilities across the country.
This story is from another country, but the principles in it are transferable. In fact, the authors of this story have moved from the place where this story took place and now are based in Saskatchewan, where they are exploring how to put these same principles into practice here in Canada. God is using these simple strategies to draw people to himself all over the world. Why not here in Canada?
*Names have been changed.
Alycia DeLong and her husband, Danny, have been involved in overseas missions for over 20 years. In 2015, they moved to the Middle East, focusing on discipleship multiplication ministry in unreached areas. They were there until last August when they returned to Canada with their two children. Now both Alycia and Danny are on staff at the Regina Apostolic Church, Alycia in creative design and Danny as Pastor of Global Initiatives.
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