Setting Captives Free – Praying for the Ministry of Shepherd’s Fold

The Lord is constantly reminding me that He is the One who is in control of the big things and the little things. Last week, I was consumed with getting our decorations ready for our church’s annual Trunk and Treat event. We had had family illness running through the ranks and it had put us way behind. Not only did was I not able to make time to write a post last week, I also forgot to at least post a link to this blog on social media sites as I often do to encourage/remind us all to be praying for our cities and all the great ministries in it. However, the stats page showed that last Friday had one of its biggest days in a long time. I try to stay focused on not doing this for the numbers, but it so encourages me to see people coming here and hopefully praying with me for our communities. It just reminded me that the Lord doesn’t need me and all of my words to prompt people to pray. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. I’m just glad He allows me to be a part of that in a small way. I think it’s important for anyone in any kind of ministry to remember that only the Lord is able to produce eternal results, and we can be humbly amazed and grateful to be a part of it. Remembering that also makes it so much easier to have peace and fight discouragement when hard times come. It’s the Lord’s battle, and He will fight on our behalf.

The previous post was about a ministry who helps those affected by crime to navigate through the system while preparing them for a stable life once they get out. Today, we are praying for Shepherd’s Fold, a ministry dedicated to helping men and women who have already been released from prison/jail to find total freedom from the inside out. They do this by equipping them to make a genuine life transformation after prison through education, budget and job training, and regular Bible study and counseling. Founded in 1986 by Mary Kay Beard and her husband, Shepherd’s Fold is the most experienced, longest-running successful prison re-entry ministry in Alabama. One of their ministry strategies that I love is that they are committed to prayer and have a prayer team that regularly prays for their ministry and those in their care. (They are looking to add to their prayer team, so if that is something you might be interested in, contact their prayer team coordinator, you can contact him through their website or call 205-780-6211.) Their current executive director is Green Calhoun, and they operate 4 houses in the West End area caring for 25-28 or so men and women at a time, in addition to graduate housing in Shelby County they provide at a low rent as their graduates transition to true independent living. They have helped over 1,650 previous offenders become law-abiding, productive citizens.

Eph. 4:8-13 – “8 Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” 9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

Lord Jesus, we praise You as the King of King and Lord of Lords, the One who fills all things! You are fully God yet willingly became fully man so that we could relate to You even in our depravity. You have stormed the gates of hell and have transferred us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of light! (Col. 1:13) Because of You, we are no longer strangers and aliens, but are adopted as sons so that we can cry out, Abba, Father!

Lord, we pray that the men and women who enter the Shepherd’s Fold would discover who they are in You. Set them free from the identity they formed while in prison, and reveal Yourself to them as their Savior who has stormed the gates of hell just to rescue them. We pray that they would not only see themselves as rescued, but also as receivers of the good gifts You have given them. Lord, the enemy has spent years convincing them they had nothing and were worth nothing. We pray that You would use Shepherd’s Fold to help break off every lie, every chain, and that they would step into their giftings, callings, whatever You created them for. We know that You have good plans for these men and women, plans to prosper them and to give them a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

We also pray that as they transition step by step into “normal” society, that the Body of Christ would be there to embrace them and welcome them as brothers and sisters in Christ and fellow heirs. Forgive us, Father, for how many times we tend to hold those “with a past” at arms length. Let grace abound in Your body, Lord, but also give us wisdom and discernment so that we don’t become so “graceful” that we compromise truth. We do not do our brothers and sisters any favors when that happens. Lord, we can’t do this without out. Lead us. Teach us. Change us. Not just them. Make us all one, and grow us up together in the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man, to the fullness of Christ.

We pray specifically for the Green Calhoun and for the leadership, staff, and volunteers of Shepherd’s Fold. Give them protection, wisdom, and guidance as You use them to rescue these men and women. Equip them fully for this work of service – strengthen them; uphold them with Your right hand; hone their gifts and talents; purify their hearts and minds. Provide for them spiritually, physically, emotionally, and financially. Let the purpose for which You have called Shepherd’s Fold into being be fully realized in every single life that comes through their doors. We pray this for Your honor and glory and for Your name’s sake. Amen.

If you want to share your own thoughts, prayers, or Scripture for Shepherd’s Fold, or if you have a question for us, we would love to hear from you in the comments! Thank you so much for taking the time to pray with us for another amazing ministry in the metro-Birmingham area.

Praying for Alabama Justice Ministries Network

Almost a year ago I wrote a post about praying for those who are in our prison systems. It’s one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written, surprisingly. Even briefly reading through the comments on any news story involving crime reflects such animosity towards those involved in criminal activity as to forget they are fellow human beings. Yes, it is important they be held accountable for their actions, but it is possible to pursue justice with compassion. If we, as believers, are praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven, and we know that the Bible tells us that He desires none to perish, then for us the goal of seeing a criminal incarcerated should be to bring about their restoration as a contributing member of society and to see them transformed by the Gospel.

I confess that I don’t often pray for those in jail. I think it would serve our city well if we all added them to our prayer lists, though. We read how crime is high, repetitive crime is a problem, and our prisons are overcrowded. We know that they only solution is for hearts to be changed, and that only happens through the Holy Spirit as He moves in response to the prayers He calls us to pray. Thankfully, there is a whole network of ministries who not only pray, but also go into the prisons and “proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” (Is. 61:1)

The Alabama Justice Ministries Network was founded in July 2001. Their mission is to bring about cooperation among ministries for the purpose of effectively spreading the message of God’s saving grace to those affected by crime.  One of their main goals is to provide the necessary services to assist ex-offenders to best gain and retain employment opportunities. The services include mentoring, educational and vocational training, life skills programming, housing, and continued substance abuse treatment. The AJMN partners with over 80 local churches and over 400 volunteers in the various ministries and organizations. AJMN also administers the Jefferson County Jail Ministry, the Jefferson County Community Partnership for Recovery and Reentry Network and the Robert E. Doyle: Mentoring Birmingham Program. Donna Doyle is the organization’s director.

Psalm 25:8-11 – 8 Good and upright is the LORD;
Therefore He instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in justice,
And He teaches the humble His way.
10 All the paths of the LORD are lovingkindness and truth
To those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.
11 For Your name’s sake, O LORD,
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.

Lord God, You are uncompromising in Your goodness and righteousness. Yet, You are gracious and merciful to us when we are so woefully short of it. We have all sinned and fallen short of Your glory. The only way reason there is any goodness in us is because we have been justified as a gift by Your grace through redemption in Jesus Christ. (Rom. 3:23-24) We are SO thankful and humbled that You have saved us while we were yet sinners. It makes us shout hallelujah!!!

We lift up the men, women, and children who are in our criminal justice system, whether they are criminals, family, or victims of crime, and ask that Your will would be done in each of their lives. We pray that You would set them on paths of righteousness of Your name’s sake (Ps. 23:3). Reveal Your compassion and truth to those who have been led astray by their own sinful choices, and to those who have been deeply wounded by others’ sinful choices. We pray that Your justice and Your compassion would be meted out in equal measure according to Your righteous will. Protect these individuals from the hate and judgment that is spewed on them from those who consider themselves better than them. God, forgive us – Your children – for thinking we are better than them. Help us to see them through Your eyes.

We thank You for raising up the Alabama Justice Ministries Network, and for the unity they have developed among the churches and organizations who are leading the way in ministering the Gospel to those in prison, and then helping them become healthy individuals again. We pray that You would continue to increase the spirit of unity and humility among these ministries as they work together. Continue to teach them Your ways of justice. Keep their eyes focused on You. Let them see Your lovingkindness and truth on display in their personal lives and in the lives of those they minister to. We pray that You would protect them and encourage them. I know they see great victories, but I’m sure they also see great heartache. Father, sing Your song of deliverance over them and over their clients. Give them times of rest for their soul. Lead them beside still waters and restore their soul, especially when the battle gets particularly intense. We pray that You would give Donna Doyle and her leadership team wisdom, discernment, and guidance to accomplish what You have called them to accomplish. Give them grace when the journey gets hard. Give them grace to trust only You even when it feels easy. We also ask for increase – more churches, more of Your people answering the call to preach liberty to the captives. For Your glory. Amen.

Praying for Prisoners

Today, we’re praying for one of the last issues I would have come up with on my own, but the Lord has laid it on my heart in an undeniable way. You may have seen some of the news articles, like this one, regarding the horrible treatment of prisoners in the Alabama prison system. It’s easy to shrug our shoulders and say, “So? They’re in there because they deserve to be. They did the crime, they do the time, whatever that looks like.” I’m guilty of forgetting that those prisoners are still human beings whom God has compassion on and desires to reconcile them to Himself. Breaking the law, even in the most heinous ways, does not remove a person from the reaches of God’s grace. It also does not make it okay for that person to be mistreated and abused by anyone. Breaking the law also does not justify someone else breaking the law in their treatment of that person.

Some of you may be struggling with what I just said. You may think I would feel differently if I had been the victim of a criminal act. Well, I have, in significant ways, and I know the frustration and pain of not seeing justice done. I have also had family members who were involved in crime and have spent time in jail (albeit not in the state prison system). My husband is a Birmingham police officer. I’m in a unique position of having experienced the criminal justice system from several different angles, and I have run the gamut of emotions and opinions on it. But I’ve learned I need to seek the Lord’s heart about these things. It’s possible to desire justice and have compassion at the same time. It’s very hard, at times, but it is possible. We must seek the Lord.

While I was praying about doing this blog post, my children and I went to Vulcan Park and Museum. In the museum, we read about how the prisoners were treated so horribly as they were forced to do labor in the furnaces. Many of them were beaten and killed; all of them were pushed beyond humane limits. Many of them were not hardened criminals, but were serving time for petty crimes, and still they were treated as though they were less than human. It made me realize that what is happening in the state prison system is a generational issue that has been around at least since the early days of the metro-B’ham area. We must pray.

Luke 4:18-19 – “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD.”

Lord Jesus, praise Your name! You are Sovereign Lord, full of grace and compassion, who died for us while we were yet sinners. Justice and compassion are Yours, the One who experienced the grossest miscarriage of justice as You, who are holy, were condemned for all our sins, and who found no compassion among the crowd crying out for Your death. You know and understand what injustice and lack of compassion feels like. You give us the power by Your Spirit to have compassion even on the worst of people. You enable us to forgive those who sin against us, just as you forgave the very soldiers who crucified You.

We thank You that You can set the captives free, and that we are some of those very captives whom You have freed. We pray for every man and woman in the Alabama prison system right now to be set free by the power of the Gospel – not necessarily physically free, but set their spirits free. This includes not just those who are serving time, but also for the men and women working in the jails. Jesus, we pray that You would give those in authority over the prisoners a heart of compassion. Set them free from bitterness and hate. Remove any unrighteous leadership over the prison system, and raise up God-fearing, Christ-like leadership who can bring the necessary reform to the system.

We pray that the oppression against these prisoners would cease, and that instead of thinking of criminals as less than human, and deserving of whatever mistreatment they endure, that You would change our heart and remind us that if it were not for the grace of God, any of us could find ourselves in the same situation. Give us Your righteous indignation and help us to do whatever You call us to do to speak out against what is happening in our prisons. We confess that we have chosen ignorance and blindness to these issues. Forgive us, and restore our sight. Let us see the situation with Your eyes and Your heart.

In Your name, Lord Jesus Christ, we tear down the generational stronghold of hate and oppression that has existed in this prison system since nearly its inception. Thank You, Lord, that the injustices of abuse and extortion are coming to light, because that is a sign that You are already working. We pray that Satan would no longer be allowed to prevail against these prisoners and against the corrections officers/guards. Instead, we pray that God’s kingdom would come, and that His will would be done in every single prison in this state as it already is in Heaven. Lord, I confess that even as I pray that, my mind and flesh are trying to speak against it – trying to convince me that is an impossible request. Thank You, Lord God, that with You nothing is impossible. We can see our prisons become places of redemption, hope and light, in Jesus’ name.

We pray all of this in the matchless name of Jesus Christ, amen.

If you’re like me, this isn’t a subject you often pray about. Is there something the Lord is laying on your heart to pray, or is there something I prayed that either bears witness with you or that you’re struggling with? I would love to hear from you either way.