The nation’s leading prison ministry has given over 100,000 Bibles in the past nine months to incarcerated men and women across the country amid heightened demand for God’s word during the COVID-19 pandemic.
James Ackerman, CEO of Prison Fellowship, the leading Christian ministry serving prisoners and their families, told The Christian Post in an interview that the scale of the Bible distribution is “nothing short of God-inspired and miraculous.”
He explained how the hopelessness of the pandemic created a high demand for Bibles among many prisoners. Ackerman assured that Prison Fellowship has never seen this level of demand for the Gospel inside prisons in its 45-year history.
“During a time when prisons had shut down, and incarcerated men and women had to go without visitations or programming, there’s this sense of hopelessness in prisons,” he said.
“God put on people’s hearts and encouraged chaplains to promote the Word of God. And [the fact] that hope of the Gospel found itself in such high demand is so encouraging to me.”
Ackerman, who became president of the ministry founded by the late Chuck Colson in 2016, believes that God created “greater demand for His word” and “provided the resources we needed to meet that demand.”
The Life Recovery Bible was co-branded with Inside Journal, Prison Fellowship's quarterly newspaper published for the incarcerated.
The Bible has special devotional content based on the 12-step recovery model. It helps men and women overcome addictions and strongholds while pointing to “God himself as the primary source of recovery with essential tools and features that help free people from the grip of addiction.”
Prison Fellowship, founded in 1976, has always distributed Bibles. But the ministry teamed up with Tyndale House to provide large-print Bibles with content to guide people dealing with addiction recovery, which is prevalent among prisoners.
“Having a Bible that speaks to addiction recovery and needs was also a priority for us,” Ackerman said. “The Life Recovery Bible by Tyndale was the perfect fit for what we were exploring.”
Around 65% of inmates in the U.S. meet the medical criteria for substance use and addiction, yet only 11% receive the treatment they need, according to the behavioral healthcare system Vertava Health.
“[The Life Recovery Bible] brings the opportunity to step into new beginnings with Jesus. And because it’s a recovery Bible, it’s also speaking directly to the journey and narrative that’s consistent with so many of the lives of these men and women,” Ackerman said. “[The aim is for] people who have struggled with addiction and that addiction [led] to other unproductive activities in their life to realize that they can be healed of that addiction, that Jesus wants to heal them of that addiction and to allow them to start a life of new beginnings.”
A Prison Fellowship survey of prison chaplains showed that most prisoners do not have easy access to their own Bible or have a Bible in a difficult-to-read translation or small font.
“We rejoice with Prison Fellowship in reaching this milestone of distributing 100,000 copies of The Life Recovery Bible in just nine months,” Tyndale House Ministries CEO Scott Mathews said in a statement.
“We value their partnership and are grateful for their efforts in getting God’s Word into the hands of prisoners who need the freeing power of the Scriptures,” he continued. “Tyndale shares this mission of making the Bible accessible for everyone.”
Prison Fellowship has distributed over 162,000 Bibles to men and women in prison since partnering with Tyndale in 2018.
Over 3 million copies of The Life Recovery Bible, Tyndale’s bestselling recovery Bible, have been printed. It is available in English and Spanish.
Ackerman said many correctional facilities worried prisoners would become agitated and violent with lockdowns and canceled programs due to the pandemic. The Bibles, however, have provided the exact opposite effect, the Prison Fellowship president said.
“The feedback we’ve gotten is that these Bibles are helping to keep people calm and to keep people focused on either strengthening their faith for those who are already believers … but also encouraging others who have never considered the Christian faith before to really sit down and crack open that Bible and read it,” Ackerman said. “It is creating an environment of calmness in the prison that the Department of Corrections feared might not be there.”
“God provided us all we needed to meet the demand to supply those 100,000 Bibles,” he added. “That, to me, it just shows you when the Lord is in something, He not only opens the door to create the demand, but He provides the resources needed to fulfill the expectation.”
Prison employees have commended the difference in their facilities since the prisoners received these Bibles.
Mac Mullings, program and services coordinator at Oklahoma County Detention Center, called the Bibles “lifesavers.”
“Every time I go to the floors, I make sure I bring one of these Bibles, and I say, ‘I don’t know if you’re interested in this, but here it is if you want it.’ And eight times out of 10, they want it,” Mullings said in a statement.
“The importance of [providing these Bibles] cannot be overstated,” Mullings added. “It’s like a second chance. When you supply one of these Bibles, you’re changing somebody’s life.”
Prison chaplains can order the Bibles, devotionals and ministry materials for prisoners through Prison Fellowship’s online store for prison chaplains called The Storehouse.
Of the 100,000 Bibles ordered in the past nine months, 70,000 of them were ordered through The Storehouse.