Hope in the Darkness: Prison Ministry

Imagine discovering you have been forgiven for murder.  How would that change your life?

Hello!  My name is Matthew Magnus.  I have the wonderful privilege of serving as pastor of Pineview Alliance Church in Grande Cache, and also of serving as a part time chaplain in our local federal prison.

Prison is a spiritually dark place, and the chapel serves an enormous value to many of the inmates during their incarceration.  The power of Christ’s grace and love is so strong here; you can really feel it each and every time you go.

One of the most common phrases you’ll hear from an inmate is, “There’s no forgiveness for what I’ve done.”  So many come from a place of deep guilt, expecting chapel to just be something that helps them get parole and a cup of coffee.  It’s always an incredible moment when one begins to realize the grace of God is greater than their sins.

To see the Gospel transform men who are angry and full of shame into people who are forgiven and full of hope – on a weekly basis – is one of the most rewarding ministries I can imagine.  This is a place where cycles of sin and despair can be broken, and helping one person here can make waves when they get out and re-engage with their families and communities.

It is an inspiration to continually see men react to the gospel, not just as a simple change in belief, but a change in purpose.

But like all ministries, it is not without its challenges.  Prison is a very spiritually dark place, and the prayers of God’s people are among the most effective tools of cutting through that darkness.  And not just with the inmates, but the staff as well.  Many of them deal with enormous stress, anxiety and trauma, and it lingers in the culture of work there.

Additionally, there is no funding for resources for the chapel.  Apart from chaplains’ wages and special diets, the federal government doesn’t spend much money on religious “stuff” and the prisons rely on their local faith communities to provide them with resources.  I’m not sure how well that works in the prisons by the cities, but in Grande Cache, a rural community 90 minutes from the next town, resources are always short.

First and foremost, I ask you to remember us and your local prisons in your prayers.  Yes – I am about to ask for resources as well, but I really do mean prayer as, “first and foremost.”  I was really excited when I got the part time position at the institution, because it would enable me to pray for the prison from within the prison.  Honestly – in 18 months of employment there I can count the number of times I’ve done that on one hand.  It is a very challenging environment.  I praise God daily for the prayers of the people in my church, and the many (many!) staff who have worked there for years and continue to exude positive energy and support for other staff and inmates.  Please, find out the names of your local chaplains for those who live near institutions, pray for them, and pray for the staff and inmates as well.

Second, resource donations are always welcome.  I’ll write up a list at the end of this post with more detail on what we always need at the specific prison I work at, but I also encourage you to keep in mind your local prisons when you find yourself with extra supplies and want to know where to send them.

Third, promote and partner with some of the ministries that currently exist to serve inmates.  There are some incredible programs out there that provide us with resources and support for inmates and run on a donation and volunteer basis.  The most impactful ministry I’ve seen so far is Angel Tree by Prison Fellowship.  This is a ministry that sends Christmas presents to the children of inmates at no charge.  Inmates have very little disposable income, and what is considered a lot of money on “the inside” is actually very little when it comes to sending gifts and supporting their families.  To have somebody from a local church knock on the door and hand their children presents on behalf of their dad is an emotionally powerful ministry.

Thank you for taking the time to read this!  I hope I’ve been able to offer a little insight into the importance of prison ministry and the needs that it has.  If any of you would like to talk more about it, I’d be more than happy to!  Just send me a facebook message or email me at mmagnus@live.ca

Concerning the specific resources the chapel I work in always needs:

1) Pew Style Bibles.  We like to work out of the same Bibles when we have ministries so we can give passage references along side page numbers and also know everyone is working out of the same translation.  Our current collection is falling apart.  A batch of 25-30 Bibles in moderate condition and all of the same printing would be of huge help.  The Gideons have provided us with a case of Bibles, but the print is very small and they are quite flimsy – good for personal use, not for the group settings we have.  Any easy to read translation will do such as NLT – the average inmate comes into prison with a 6th grade education.

2) Bible Studies and Work Books.  We find that when the inmates have a workbook to take back to their cell with them, there is a lot better engagement.  Unfortunately, even at $5-7/book, they can’t afford to buy them more than once or twice a year.  We do a mix of DVD Bible studies and personal teaching.  Concerning topics – these guys are like anyone else, and the majority of Bible Studies are relevant to their lives.

3) Anything music.  Anything.  There are some really talented guys in prison.  We like the chapel to be a place they can participate in worship through music, and also jam for fun and find some joy there.  But our chapel instruments are aging and wearing quite thin.  We have a couple of guitars and a bass that are warped and hard to keep in tune, as well as a drum set that is wearing out, and a piano that hasn’t been tuned… probably ever.  Any parts such as drum skins, drum sticks, strings, or used instruments still in decent condition would be greatly appreciated.  We have an inmate now who is capable of tuning the piano – we just need a key to do it.  Also, worship books with music to learn newer songs.

4) “Old School” Media – namely DVD’s and CD’s.  There isn’t access to online streaming, nor can I bring in a USB for music and movies.  We have to do everything like its 1999!  Newer Christian music would be highly appreciated, as well as CD’s with sermons and messages (though they can’t be burned… sort of… message me if you want to know more).  Also – movies with a strong, positive messages or ones that lead into really good discussions on morality make for great evenings.  I showed them Captain America: Civil War one night and we spent two hours talking about good and bad structures of authority and the the connection between bitterness and lack of forgiveness and grace (from a super hero movie!?  Yeah – there’s actually some pretty solid themes in them).

If you live in the Edmonton area, I can pick up anything you’d like to donate when I come into the city.


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