On Wednesday and Thursday this week, I was able to go through training for a ministry within the prison system of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines called “Sycamore Tree”
It takes principles from Bible stories like Zaccheus (where its name comes from) as well as Onesimus and Philemon, and contextualizes it for discussion in small groups.
The interesting thing about this ministry is it’s faith based (finds its foundation in Biblical stories) but isn’t faith affirming. That is to say it’s goal isn’t Salvation, but helping prisoners see how their crime affects others
Sycamore Tree illustrates the good side and bad side of volunteering in the community. You are able to develop strong relationships with others, but very rarely have opportunity to share your faith.
This is understandably frustrating since our mission in life is to share Christ! However along with programs that emphasize witnessing, Christians shouldn’t give up on volunteering altogether.
The thing is you CAN share your faith in situations like this….you just have to be wise about doing it;
- Live out an exemplary testimony in front of them so they realize there is something different about your life
- Share openly you are a Christian but don’t talk about the Lord right away (unless God leads you to), instead develop a relationship with them first
- Be creative in how you share what the Bible teaches. In an Australian ministry I wasn’t able to use the word “God” so I said “the one who made us.” A child would always ask who that was and my answer would be “God.” This couldn’t get me in trouble because I was simply answering a question
- Show a genuine interest in their lives, especially through listening and giving complete attention
- Clarify what the Bible teaches. Most of them have a small amount of knowledge about Scripture, and hold to common misconceptions
- Openly refer to yourself as a sinner who makes mistakes, and confess to anything that you do wrong during the time there
- As they get to know you more make controversial statements that may lead into a discussion about the Gospel at a later time (like “I hate the Gospel”)
There is a lot of work involved in this…but often labor is rewarded with an opportunity to share Christ
In 2014 I became part of a reading help program for immigrants in Australia. Among our group were Muslims, Hindu’s, Catholics, and an Agnostic. As you can imagine I was a bit concerned about how things would go!
Over time I was able to clarify what the Bible taught, while waiting patiently for a chance to share Christ. Finally after about five-months one of them stopped me and asked “okay what is the difference between what we believe and you believe?” For the next forty-five minutes I explained how Christ died on the cross to save us from eternity in hell.
Sadly none of them accepted the Lord, but I am grateful for the opportunity to share.
God has definitely called us to reach the world through programs that draw them towards us. But we also are called to enter in their darkness waiting for an opportunity to brightly shine the light of the Gospel.