The Prague prison ministry began in November of 1998. Two lay people, trained in prison ministry through the Kairos movement, answered the chaplain’s call for a monthly United Methodist led Sunday school and worship service at John Lilley Correctional Center for men in Boley, OK, just a few miles east of the Prague UMC. By spring, the monthly service had become twice a month. The service continues today, much the same as it was then, on the first and third Sundays of every month with 15 - 30 men in attendance and a dozen to twenty-five men in the Sunday school. Because Lilley is a minimum facility, turn-over is constant, resulting in an almost entirely different congregation every two to three years.
Inmates provide support for the worship service, where they may serve as lay leader, music leader, vocalist, or instrumentalist. In addition to the original two outside volunteers, other outside volunteers have served over the years as guest vocalists or as substitute leaders on an as-needed basis.
In the fall of 2011, the chaplain called again, this time for help with formation of a sign language class. Due to the presence of a few deaf men at the prison, who lived in virtual isolation in different units and who were unable to take advantage of prison programs or courses because of the language barrier, the chaplain felt challenged to provide sign language interpreters. A Prague UMC volunteer began facilitating a sign class in January, 2013, with a small group of men, learning along with them, using a one-year text and video series. In December, 2012, our first class finished the course. But it takes more than a year to be an interpreter. We now have a beginner class of a dozen men and five men in the advanced class. Two deaf men and a hearing man who is fluent in sign actually lead the classes, while our church volunteer facilitates, providing structure, text, video, and sign language games.
Volunteering at any state facility requires badging and possible additional training in the area of need. State badging requires a security check and one all-day training. The training must be repeated every five years for the badge to remain current. Some areas, such as GED tutoring or leading a marriage training class, require some additional training, usually a day or two. Other volunteer help, such as clerical filing, merely requires a badge and a willingness to serve. Un-badged guests are no longer permitted and training is offered on only a half-dozen dates a year. These limitations make the need for committed people, all the more urgent. Interested? Pray for guidance, then call the Prague church or your local prison chaplain. No commitment is required, until you are badged and say “Yes” to a specific need. Take note. Once you become involved and see God’s mercy and love at work in this most unlikely of places, you will never want to stop visiting the least of these.