Connections: Garland Hunt
The Least and the Lost
Garland Hunt, president of Prison Fellowship, previously served as executive pastor of The Father’s House and vice president of a community ministry organization, both based in Atlanta. Before moving to Atlanta, he was pastor at Raleigh (N.C.) International Church, a congregation committed to racial reconciliation, from 1993-1999.
Hunt has a deep passion for ministry as it relates to Corrections. He was appointed by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as commissioner of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, a position he held from May 2010 to January 2011. Hunt began his service as Prison Fellowship president in July 2011. He spoke recently with Pentecostal Evangel Editor Ken Horn.
evangel: For readers who are unfamiliar with Prison Fellowship, describe the ministry for us.
HUNT: Prison Fellowship is the largest prison ministry in the world. It was started by Chuck Colson, who spent time in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal during the early 1970s.
The ministry has a 36-year history of touching the lives of inmates — serving them, strengthening them, discipling them, building relationships with their families, and helping them as they re-enter the community.
evangel: What kind of impact is the ministry having?
HUNT: The need is very great. America has the highest rate of incarceration of any nation in the world, with over 2.3 million in prison. We have 1.7 million children with incarcerated parents. Our nation has a major problem as it relates to incarceration.
The need for ministry is great among those who are in prison. Thus, the need for Prison Fellowship is great as well. The organization is still building a national presence. Meanwhile, we are in 120 nations worldwide. Our goal is to touch every prison, every prisoner and every child of a prisoner.
evangel: Talk about what is involved in reaching out to the families of prisoners. It can be a far different ministry than reaching out to the prisoners themselves.
HUNT: When I go into a room of inmates, I ask the question, “How many of you have a child?” Usually about 70 percent raise a hand. Then I ask, “How many of you want your children to follow in your footsteps by going to prison?” Of course, they all look down and respond, “No.”
No matter the background of the inmates, or how violent their actions have been, they have no desire to see their children follow in their footsteps. Yet over half the children of incarcerated parents will also go to prison at some point in their lives. Our goal is to break that cycle.
One of the things we do is called the Angel Tree program. During the Christmas holiday, we take a gift to a child, then introduce him or her to Jesus.
The Angel Tree program is special because the local church actually plays the key role. After a prisoner requests that a gift be sent to his or her child, we assign that child to a church. The church will buy the gift, deliver it to the child, and be a blessing to the family. Sometimes churches even have a party, inviting the child to come and receive the gift.
evangel: What kind of responses have you received from prisoners and their families, as well as from churches that have participated?
HUNT: The response has been great. These families need hope. They need someone who can speak destiny into their lives. This ministry provides churches with an opportunity to reach kids they probably would never see and never reach.
It is so gratifying to see the love and excitement in the eyes of boys and girls when they receive a Christmas gift. Sometimes these kids might come from families that are doing OK, but often they are impoverished and don’t know what’s going to happen at Christmas. If you give a child a Christmas gift, he or she is going to be excited. When you tell them the gift is also from Jesus, they really light up.
Many times there are strained relationships within the families of prisoners. Inmates may have experienced separation or some form of estrangement before going into prison, and there are a lot of gaps in their relationships. So often, the gifts from Angel Tree can bridge gaps in relationships and bring the beginning of true reconciliation. It starts with a simple gift, as well as churches and Christians who will say, “Yes, I would love to buy a gift for a child.”
evangel: How can people get more information about Angel Tree and Prison Fellowship?
I’ve seen so many people begin to participate in Angel Tree, then quickly decide to make it a yearly practice. They look forward to the opportunity to look past themselves.
It’s easy to get involved. The hearts of people in the church are touched when they see the reaction of kids receiving their gifts. Many pastors, as well as members of the congregation, look forward to this ministry every year. Sometimes it becomes the biggest outreach on the church calendar. It’s a great blessing, and a great surprise, for the kids. And it brings great enlightenment to their lives as well.
evangel: Any final thoughts?
HUNT: I believe it is our responsibility as Christians to make a difference in the lives of those around us — and we cannot forget the least and the lost. In prison there are entrepreneurs. There are leaders. There are people who can actually come out and start churches.
There are some in prison who want to go back into the communities where they committed their crimes. They want to return as changed individuals and do everything possible to impact the church, to get into the process of being mentored and then find a place in society so they avoid reoffending.
The goal of Prison Fellowship is to help them find their place in society, where they can impact their own communities.
Approximately 700,000 inmates are released from prison every year in the United States. Those men and women must be touched by the love of Christ. That’s what Prison Fellowship is all about.
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