Thursday, October 28, 2010

By Faith at Faith

We are off to Pella, Iowa once again.  I was asked by Rev. Ryan Faber to preach at the Reformation Day Service to be held at Faith Christian Reformed Church in Pella.  The sermon is entitled Faith for the Long Haul.  Does it seem ironic to you that I'm preaching about faith at Faith?

This visit may bring back the memories.  I was last inside Faith CRC when my brother David married a Pella girl: Alicia Nugteren.  
I was one of the groomsmen along with Alicia's brothers.  Interestingly, our family will be staying with one of the brothers (Randy Nugteren) this weekend.  Randy and his wife Brenda have hosted us once before at their house West of town.  They are members of Calvary CRC, which is my potential calling congregation.  At the Admiraal-Nugteren wedding, I remember reading the Adam & Eve text from the tail end of Genesis 2. 

This time, the texts will be from the minor prophets and the Pauline epistles.  First we'll go to the prophet Habakkuk who wrote: "the righteous will live by his faith" (Hab. 2:4).  Next we'll reference the Apostle Paul who wrote: "the righteous will live by faith" (Romans 1:17).  Then it's off to Martin Luther who proclaimed that a person is justified by faith alone (sola fide).  Finally we arrive in 21st century Pella where a community is living by faith by initiating an ambitious church plant in a non-traditional setting.  The Pella-area churches are supporting the New Life in the prison setting.  The Holy Spirit is moving in the churches.  What a leap of faith!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Christ Changed Dan's Life - by Pastor Art

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a Prison 
Congregations in America conference in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  
The conference was wonderful but what was outstanding was to hear 
the story of a prisoner named Dan while worshipping in prison.  Dan 
had grown up in a Wiccan home and by an early age was in trouble 
with the law and subsequently made his way into prison.  While in 
prison Dan tried to escape and the reward for his escape attempt 
was to be put in the "hole," solitary confinement, for many years.  
While in solitary confinement a man by the name of Harlan would 
often come by Dan's cell to see if he wanted to talk.  Dan would 
cuss out Harlan and tell him where to go and how to get there. 
Harlan however kept going back to talk to Dan to be an 
encouragement to him and to try talking about Jesus Christ.  One 
day Dan decided to get Harlan off his back so he began to engage 
Harlan in conversation hoping to get rid of him.  Dan objected to 
Harlan's teachings about Jesus but Harlan, in love, would answer 
the objections and continue to love and treat Dan with respect.  
Soon Harlan had Dan's respect and the conversations about Christ 
continued.  Eventually Dan gave his life to Jesus Christ and today 
is a leader in the prison congregation.  What I saw before me was
man transformed by the grace of God - a living miracle! I thank God 
for prison congregations that reach out to help the despised of 
society.  I thank God for men like Harlan who have the patience of 
Job and deep love for Jesus Christ.  It is because of men like 
Harlan and prison congregations that Dan and many others now know 
Jesus Christ's love and grace.  All I could say as I left prison 
that night was, "To God be the glory!"

by Pastor Art Van Wolde of Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa

Friend of the Prisoner


Dr. John Robson (Left) is a friend of the prisoner.  He is the professor of Christian Ministry at the Angola Extension of the New Orleans Baptist Seminary.  In other words, he teaches the Bible to inmates so that they can do God's good work of ministry behind bars.  

Dr. John did me a huge favor because he helped put words on my experience in Louisiana.  Even though I've been behind the walls in Michigan, South Dakota and Iowa, the experience at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola was quite unique.  In fact, it was like entering a foreign country.  The prison itself is massive - 5000+ prisoners are housed on a "campus" the size of Manhattan.  On the grounds, you can see fields where produce is grown and pasture-land where cattle are grazing.  The prison has unique features, such as its own prison rodeo and craft show.  Inmates also produce a news magazine called the Angolite.  The prison even has two guest houses because so many visitors come from great distances to witness what is happening at Angola.

The place overwhelmed me because it didn't fit neatly within my categories.  To quote Prof. Nydam:  the experience "blew my socks off."  But when Dr. John spoke to our group from Calvin Theological Seminary, he put words to my experience.  He spoke to us about his work at the Bible College in the main prison camp.  His words struck a chord.  With a borrowed pen, I started taking notes on a brown paper towel!  

Here is what Dr. John told us:  Why am I here at Angola?  Well, there are not too many places where you can find God.  I wanted to find God.  And I was delighted to find God here at Angola.  I wanted to be in the presence of God.  What does God want to do with all this?  If men behind bars can change then the world can change. I believe that the Next Great Awakening will come out of prison.   God invites you to join in his work.  When you find him at work, you jump on board the train.  But we must remember this: it's God who is driving the train.

Dr. John is working in cooperation with Warden Cain who supports the work of the Bible College.  Warden Cain speaks of moral rehabilitation of criminals.  In agreement with Dr. Robson, Warden Cain also believes that revival for America will arise out of prison.

Dr. John often wags his finger at his students and says: "Get over yourself."  It's not about us, it's about what HE is doing.  HE owns our ministry.  We're not to take the credit because it is God who deserves all the credit.  So let's get off the tracks, and hop aboard a box car on God's train.  God's train is coming and it has a whole lot of momentum.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Three Hurdles

Lolo Jones is an Olympic hurdler who grew up in Des Moines, Iowa.  She comes back to Iowa almost every year to compete in the Drake Relays in front of her hometown fans.  Lolo specializes in the 100m hurdles and has to clear 10 hurdles at a full sprint before she reaches the finish line - in an incredible 12.43 seconds.  So what does this have to do with the new prison church in Newton, Iowa?  Not much.  But it can be used as a segue of sorts.  Transition coming....

The new prison church faces three major hurdles.
Two of the hurdles have been cleared already.
First hurdle: Home Missions approval.  Check.
Second hurdle: Central Plains Classis approval.  Check in flying colors.  The delegates passed the prison church proposal unanimously.
Only one hurdle remains:  On November 8, Calvary Christian Reformed Church hosts its annual congregational meeting.  At this meeting, members of Calvary will decide whether to extend a call for me to be the new prison pastor of the New Life Prison Church.  If they do, Calvary will be my home base outside of the prison even though the new ministry will be supported by other churches too.  Please pray that this third and final hurdle will be cleared cleanly.  May God be praised.

Thanksgiving in Prison

This sign at the Angola Prison made me stop and think.  I asked Prof. Ron Nydam to take this picture - it seemed significant.  The sign is posted above the metal gate to the educational wing of the Main Prison Camp in the Angola State Prison.  Behind me in the photo are classrooms, offices and the theological library of the Bible college within the prison.  The sign refers to Psalm 100: Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.  Give thanks to him, bless his name. (Ps. 100:4)  The original intent of the writer of this Psalm was the entry through the gates of the Temple.  Into God's House of Prayer.  But it seems to fit in this context too.  These are His gates into His classroom where His children study His Word. 
     I wondered how inmates could carry thanksgiving while they were incarcerated.  It reminded me of my oral comprehensive exams at Calvin Theological Seminary.  I was completely stressed out and carried a tremendous amount of anxiety prior to the exam.  When I talked about this with some friends at church, one of them asked me: "How is that working out for you?"  I replied: "Not very good."  That conversation drove me to God's Word, where I read: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice." (Phil. 4:4)  I thought to myself ~ Can I carry JOY in all circumstances? And amazingly, it was possible - God's Spirit enabled me to carry Joy and Peace into the stressful experience of oral exams.
   Meanwhile back at the prison, I believe thanksgiving is a real possibility for inmates who pass through those metal gates.  They can give thanks to God in spite of their situation.  They can also give thanks to God in their incarceration by making good use of their time in the Bible College.  In this way, they can learn God's Word and prepare to serve other inmates, giving them purpose in the present.  Finally, they can give thanks to God for their imprisonment because it is an instrument to promote change.  Numerous inmates I've met have also been able to thank God since the great interruption of prison stopped them in their tracks.  When God pulled them off the streets, it saved their life.  Literally.

Angola Prison Visitors

This is the Group from Calvin Seminary that visited Angola Prison from 10/12 to 10/15
Back Row (L to R) - Stephen Jackson, Andy Hanson, 
Prof. Ron Nydam, Prof. John Rottman, Jessica Driesenga. 
Middle Row (L to R) - David Brander, John Eigege, Rich Visser.  
Front Row - Me (Rick Admiraal)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Prison Poem

Our group from Calvin Seminary returned from Louisiana on Friday night.  We spent the week at Angola State Penitentiary ("The Farm") near Baton Rouge, LA.  We had an incredible trip to say the least.  Angola is a maximum security facility on a large plot of land, housing over 5000 inmates.  One sad fact that we learned was that 85% of the population of Angola St. Pen. will die in prison.  Certainly, a unique feature of Angola is their prison news magazine - called The Angolite.  One of the inmates we encountered was a writer for the magazine and he supplied us with four separate copies of The Angolite.  The following poem is from the January/February 2010 issue of The Angolite.


I am a prison - I am damp and I am cold
I hold people who are young and old
I am surrounded by fences and gates that have locks
And my walls are all made of concrete blocks

I am a prison - I am feared by all
I'll give you a chill when you hear me call
Your name becomes a number - your face becomes just another
I'll show you no pity - I'm not your mother

I am a prison - designed to be rough
I am where society houses its tough
Nobody has beat me - though many have tried
But mostly they all still remain inside
I have no answers so don't ask me why
I put those tears in your children's eyes

I am a prison - where nobody wants to be
I confine people who were once free
I control their pace - I slow down their pride
Like animals that you might put in a cage
I contain these people and watch them age

I am prison - I am full of despair
I can be a person's worst nightmare
I've been here many years and will be many more
You'll recognize me by my slamming doors

I am a prison - a place you don't want to live
I've so much to take but nothing to give
But there is one who does - and he hears all of your pleas
So pray to the Lord Jesus for only he has the keys

by Dale Lechuga #519366

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Louisiana Prison Trip

Another trip is coming up fast.  Next week (Oct. 12-15),  I'll be traveling to Louisiana to visit "The Farm."  I was invited to join a group from Calvin Seminary led by Prof. Ron Nydam and Prof. John Rottman.  The Farm is one of these notorious prisons in America.  A lot of interesting things happen at the Farm, including an annual rodeo in which community members are invited to attend.  They also host a giant craft sale, in which arts & crafts produced by the inmates are on sale to the general public.  The Farm is HUGE - it is 17 miles around the entire perimeter and one side borders on the Mighty Mississippi River (I had to look up that spelling!).  The prison has this official name: The Angola State Penitentiary.  However, it's also called the Farm because they grow all their own produce and raise all their own meat for the prison population on the premises.  Obviously, everyone has a job to do if they can manage to stay out of trouble & solitary confinement.  Part of the reason for the trip south is the fact that the New Orleans Baptist Seminary hosts a seminary on the prison grounds.  Inmates graduating from this program may become missionaries to other prisons or work at the hospice on site.  Prof. Nydam will teach a seminar on pastoral care and Prof. Rottman will teach a short course on the 4 page method of Biblical preaching.  In addition, we'll sit in on the existing classes at the prison seminary and tour the grounds of the prison.  Also on the schedule is a lunch with Warden Burl Cain.  He's a larger than life figure with deep spiritual convictions.  Rose & I met him when he gave a talk at the Calvin College January Series in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  See the link below:


Warden Cain at Calvin's January Series

Wouldn't it be great if Calvin Theological Seminary became more involved at Celebration Fellowship prison congregation in the Ionia (Michigan) correctional facility?  We'll see what doors God opens in the future. 


Joy at Classis Central Plains by Pastor Jeff Sajdak

            I have the privilege of being the Chair of the Classis Central Plains Home Missions Committee, and had the honor of serving as the Chair of the September 2010 meeting of Classis where the proposal to pursue a new prison congregation was presented.  It was a joy to watch people recognize God’s hand at work and respond with joyful enthusiasm.
            Nearly two years ago, I contacted Mary Mortenson of Prison Congregations of America, and we enquired with prison staff about a church plant, but the prison wasn’t open to us.  Still, we knew that there was a tremendous opportunity for a church plant, if God would open the doors.
In the last few months, God has been opening doors, and His people have been ready to step through.  As Home Missions Chair, I had the privilege of being at the meeting with the staff of the prison to inquire about doing a church plant, and was overwhelmed when the staff asked us when we could start.  Seeing a solid calling church step up to the plate, having Christian Reformed Home Missions commit to support, and meeting Rick (and now Rose) Admiraal, it was clear to me that God was bringing all the pieces together.  And at the meeting of Classis, the delegates could see Rick’s passion and how God had opened the doors.  With joy, Classis voted unanimously to begin the ministry and provide support for it.
God has brought all the pieces together.  It will be a joy to see the mighty works He has in store for New Life Prison ChurchPraise be to His holy name!

By Pastor Jeff Sajdak - First Christian Reformed Church of Pella, Iowa

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Blessed by a Prisoner - by Becky Bandstra

Becky Bandstra is a member of Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa.  I asked Becky & her husband Bryan to attend the Come & See Event in Sioux Falls, SD.  I'm so glad they said "Yes!"  On Thursday night, she attended worship services at the St. Dysmas prison church.  St. Dysmas is the name the early church gave to the thief on the cross who was welcomed to Paradise by Christ.  St. Dysmas is a Lutheran church that meets every Thursday night and ends each service with the Lord's Supper.

Becky's words ~ I've had an interest in prison ministry since the first time I read about Prison Fellowship's work in prisons across the nation.  So, when my husband and I were invited to attend the Come & See Event, I was intrigued and interested to learn more about what was involved in planting a church inside a prison.  During these two days I was inspired by the prison church pastors and their wives and the love they pour out to the inmates.  I was amazed and blessed by the testimonies of the inmates on the prison council who take their leadership roles as elders very seriously and who talk about how being part of a church congregation is like finding a new family, making them feel like a human being again, someone with worth and value.  But what made the most impression on me was when I went up to receive communion and was served the wine by one of the inmate elders, a young man serving a life sentence.  I looked up into his face, and with his eyes shining and a smile on his face he said, "This is Christ's blood given for you." I couldn't help but think, "this is someone whom the world would look upon as 'the least of these' and someone with no future outside of prison to look forward to.  Yet, he has just blessed _me_ while fulfilling his leadership role in his church."  I was humbled and so thankful to see how God can use everyone to be vessels of his love, including inmates.  And it all started because of one prison congregation, who called a pastor to plant a church in this prison, who introduced this young man to Christ and loved and discipled him.

Prison Congregations

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rose's Thoughts

I asked my wife Rose to write out some of her thoughts too.  I feel great about her commitment to this project.  Many of the existing prison congregations function as a husband-wife team.  For example, Steve & Diane Moerman work together at the Cornerstone Prison Church in South Dakota.  It's our desire to work together too.

Rose's Thoughts ~ In case any one wonders, I (Rose) am 100% behind Rick and feel that we are both called to this ministry.  God has been so faithful to us and guided us through a decade of searching and praying for this ministry opportunity.  I am overwhelmed with the support and faithfulness God has shown to me and my family.  Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we try to sell our home, pack, and move to Pella, Iowa by the end of December.  GOD is FAITHFUL ALL the TIME!

Rose with our daughter Annaliese at Sioux Falls last summer

Saturday, October 2, 2010

South Dakota Trip

   We just returned from an incredible trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Rose & I are still feeling like zombies because we woke up at 4:00 a.m. to catch a 6:00 a.m. flight back to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The occasion was the annual Come & See Event hosted by Prison Congregations of America.  The event gave us many pointers on planting a prison congregation.  Presenters including 3 prison pastors and their spouses who minister in the prisons in Sioux Falls.  One of the prison pastors was Rev. Steve Moerman who was my mentor during a ten week internship last summer.  Other presenters included a re-entry specialist, three former inmates, and two prison officials.  Overall, the conference was incredible.  The highlight was a visit to prison where we worshiped with the Baptist Congregation - Lighthouse Prison Fellowship - on Thursday evening.  One of the inmates worshiping God at that prison church was a former Wiccan who had converted to Christianity after a persistent evangelist brought him to Christ gradually over time.  On Friday night, Rose and I returned to prison to worship at Cornerstone - the local Christian Reformed prison congregation.  It was incredible to say the least.  We knew many of the inmates as well as the volunteers from our internship last summer on "The Hill." The pic below is The Hill in Sioux Falls - the South Dakota State Penitentiary (SDSP) is a large, brick prison building on top of The Hill - it used to be a military outpost back in the 1800's but now it contains a beautiful chapel with stained glass windows inside.
SDSP on The Hill (pic taken from Falls Park)

   God is calling us to start a prison church too.  It will be called New Life Prison Church in Newton, Iowa.  Lord willing, the ministry will begin in January of 2011 with Bible study groups and prayer.  Hopefully we will build momentum over time and become a worshiping community.  We've felt the support of churches in Pella (Iowa) and the surrounding area.  There were SIX (!) individuals from Pella at the Come & See event in Sioux Falls: Pastor Jeff from 1st Christian Reformed Church (CRC), Pastor Art From Calvary CRC, and four members of Art's church - Bryan & Becky, Howard, and Nuper.  God had a good reason for bringing each of them to Sioux Falls.  Before they returned to Iowa, we circled up and prayed together.  It was an experience of Oneness in the Spirit.  I believe God is going to use this conference as a springboard to make a Big Splash in the prison.  I believe God will change hearts and lives as this prison church begins to grow.  Please pray.