Imagine a person was just released from prison and wanted to get his life on the right track, and he knew going to church needed to be part of that plan. But because of his criminal record, he was required to stay away from churches.
Such a person in Fort Worth, Texas, is able to find help and hope through Freedom Church, a ministry of First Baptist Church in nearby Colleyville. Freedom Church reaches men and women re-entering society from prison by offering weekly worship services, small groups and life skills classes.
“Since these individuals for whatever reason — their paperwork, a stigma they may carry with them — don’t feel comfortable walking into a church or maybe they’re not thinking about church, I thought, ‘Hey, let’s bring church to them,'” said John Earle, Freedom Church’s campus pastor.
“When we reach ‘the least of these,’ it’s individuals who maybe committed murder, hardened criminals who have done their time and now they’re trying to get back into society,” Earle told the Sothern Baptist TEXAN.
The ministry began a couple of years ago when First Baptist Colleyville deployed small group leaders to offer Bible studies in parolee housing complexes in Fort Worth, about half an hour from the church. They’d meet in laundry rooms or wherever they could find space.
About a year ago, Earle said, Freedom Church emerged, with Wednesday night worship services in a rented room at the Resource Center of Tarrant County. After eight years on staff as a youth pastor, Earle transitioned last fall to his new position leading the ministry.
Earle, who was an offensive tackle for five seasons in the NFL before entering ministry, soon realized the church volunteers weren’t able to maximize their efforts while meeting in the resource room. For one, parolees had to fill out extensive paperwork just to get permission to attend the services.
“They had stipulations within their parole if they were allowed to leave the campus,” he said. “I saw that sometimes they came and sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes it might be in their paperwork that if they worked in the daytime they can’t leave their campus at night.”
So starting in January, the worship services moved to the housing units where the parolees stay as they transition back into society. “It gives us a lot more people to reach with the Gospel,” Earle said.
“We know that we’re never going to be autonomous because of the turnover,” he said. “We have these parolees anywhere from three to five months. They go into these housing units and then they leave and go back into society. Our impact has to be fast and furious.”
When a parolee is allowed to leave prison, Earle said, “immediately they want a job. They need clothes. They need a place to stay. They need food. Those are all big-time urgencies on their hearts.
“But as I roll with them, I let them know that unless they have a heart transplant they’re going to be the same old, same old, and that urgency is going to cause them to make bad choices and get back in prison again.
“We see people getting saved daily. This past Sunday at a small group we had eight people get saved,” Earle said. “We’re going to get them baptized and walking with God.
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Source: Baptist Press