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Homosexual rights activists gain influence in public schools (10/17/04)

Church’s prayer births children’s ministry (10/17/04)

Partner program revitalizes dying church (10/10/04)

Church music festival attracts variety of visitors (10/10/04)

Churches urge compassion for alienated smokers (9/19/04)

Youth ride wooden waves in church parking lots (9/12/04)

A/G, COGIC join forces through inner-city campus (9/12/04)

Christians respond to victimized women and children (8/29/04)

Growing slavic church shares new facility (8/29/04)

Couple embarks on capitol prayer tour (8/29/04)

ADHD requires multifaceted treatment approach (8/22/04)

Small congregation grows — by planting churches (8/22/04)

‘Under God’ stays in Pledge of Allegiance, at least for now (8/8/04)

Church reaches out to those feeling loss (8/8/04)

Churches act pre-emptively to reduce risk of abuse (7/25/04)

Credit cards ensnare record number of Americans (7/25/04)

Church helps out with donated CD, recycled buses (7/25/04)

New wave of pastors minister to emerging adults (7/18/04)

‘Walking Witnesses’ raise thousands for missions (7/18/04)

Healing center offers alternative medicine (7/18/04)

Growing number of Hispanics impact economy (7/11/04)

'Busy' couple finds time for compassion ministry (7/11/04)

Hand-copied Bible leaves 40-year legacy (7/11/04)

Pastor ends hunger strike when strip club promises to sell (6/27/04)

‘Military survival kit’ requests inundate A/G (6/27/04)

Fourth of July outreach draws thousands (6/27/04)

Drivers warned to steer clear of distractions (6/27/04)

Pastors face more counseling demands (6/20/04)

Church uses touch of ‘flavor’ to reach community (6/20/04)

Outrageous self-expression often starts, stops at home (6/13/04)

Runner raises $5,200 for Convoy of Hope (6/13/04)

Euphemisms tempt Christians to conveniently shed sin, guilt (5/30/04)

Funds for Easter play buy groceries instead (5/30/04)

Identity theft threatens millions of Americans (5/23/04)

Spanish speakers face challenges, opportunities in United States culture (5/16/04)

Health experts implore Americans to get fit (5/9/04)

Leaders say Christian faith stems recidivism (4/25/04)

Riders feel at home in Orlando sanctuary (4/18/04)

Churches try to keep human touch with new media (4/11/04)

Christians see Passion as ministry opportunity (3/28/04)

Tutoring improves lives, opens doors for evangelism (3/21/04)

Cybertheft costly — especially for Christians (3/14/04)

A/G women seize new ministry opportunities (2/29/04)

Investment in early spiritual maturity reaps rewards (2/22/04)

Christian families respond to foster care opportunities (2/15/04)

Childless couples grapple with emotional roller coaster, faith challenges (2/8/04)

Few men seek help from abortion grief, guilt (1/18/04)

Women who answer God's call provide valuable local ministries (1/11/04)

2003 PE Report stories

Frontline Reports

2002 PE Report stories

2001 News Digest stories

2000 News Digest stories

Leaders say Christian faith stems recidivism

By Kirk Noonan (4/25/04)

This year more than 600,000 prisoners will be released in the United States. Some will become law-abiding, productive citizens; many will not. Studies indicate that more than 60 percent of those released from prison will be arrested within three years of their release. The trend is known as recidivism.

To help curb recidivism several faith-based organizations — including Assemblies of God churches — are offering the gospel message, discipleship and training opportunities to current and former prisoners. The result, proponents say of such efforts, is that former inmates are not returning to their former ways. The potential results are safer communities, saved tax dollars and, most importantly, lives saved for eternity.

“A relationship with Jesus Christ is the foundation on which to build,” says Al Worthley, Chaplaincy Department director for the Assemblies of God. “Current and former inmates also need Christian fellowship and a mentor who will challenge and point them in the right direction.”

Len Hill serves as pastor of prison outreach at Mount Hope Church and International Outreach Ministries (an Assemblies of God congregation pastored by Dave Williams) in Lansing, Mich. Hill and his team of volunteers have ministered to inmates behind bars for 24 years, holding worship services, Bible studies, and prayer meetings and teaching inmates spiritual truths and life skills. Last year, Hill and outreach volunteers ministered to more than 1,000 inmates weekly in 18 prisons and three jails.

“We give inmates basic biblical principles, pour the Word into them and encourage them,” says Hill, 70. “Jesus is ministering and healing these people. He loves them.”

Louis Hartfield, a former inmate who served five years for assault with a deadly weapon, is indicative of the transforming power a relationship with Christ can have on a person when supported with Christian fellowship and mentoring.

After being released from prison in the early 1980s, Hartfield spent nearly 20 years working odd jobs and “hanging in the street doing things I shouldn’t have been doing,” he says. “Nothing was going right until I came to Christ.”

Hartfield says his life was forever changed two years ago at Church on the Street, an inner-city outreach of First Assembly of God in Phoenix. There, he says, he made Jesus his Savior and was challenged by the ministry’s leaders and staff to live a life reflecting his faith.

Worthley says Hartfield’s life journey is not unusual for former inmates.

“They have been living in a regulated community where the government tells them when to wake up, when to eat and when to exercise,” he says. “The longer an inmate is in prison, the harder it is for him or her to adjust and integrate back into society. A relationship with Christ can make a significantly positive difference in that transition process.”

Worthley points to recent studies that indicate a strong spiritual foundation targets anti-social behavior and emphasizes positive characteristics such as responsibility, discipline, conflict management, respect for others and accountability. All of these qualities, according to Worthley and others, increase the likelihood that former inmates will become law-abiding and productive citizens.

To help ensure that is the case, Church on the Street and other ministries offer after-care programs that reinforce a positive transition from prison into society. “Inmates are people who have made mistakes,” says Walt Rattray, 62, who has led Church on the Street for 25 years. “The Bible says they are new creatures when they accept Christ. If God is doing a work in them, He can use them.”

As part of the 90-day program, inmates receive free shelter and food, but participants are required to take part in daily devotions, worship services and street outreaches.

“A majority of the people we deal with have not been able to function in society so they need to be trained,” Rattray says. “The idea is to disciple them, build and encourage them.”

Worthley agrees.

“When inmates are mentored the recidivism rate goes down significantly,” he says. “We need to work with them hand in hand just like we do with all Christians.”

The life-transforming power that churches and faith-based programs offer has not gone unnoticed. Last year President Bush signed a bill authorizing the availability of funds for faith-based groups. “Partnering with caring and compassionate community-based organizations, we have been able to help alleviate the potential for criminal activity before it can occur,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a recent speech. “These programs change lives by touching hearts.”

Hartfield agrees.

“Christ is the key,” says Hartfield. “If you don’t have God in your life things are not going to go right.”

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