Prison ministry leaders from more than 130 countries are addressing the most difficult issues surrounding the justice systems in the world during a five-day conference in Toronto.
Prison Fellowship International, which is the world’s largest prison ministry, is hosting the convocation that meets once every four years. Nearly 900 representatives of various prison and justice related organization are in attendance at the Sheraton Centre.
Ron Nikkel, PFI’s president and CEO, said that this year’s meeting is focused on life after prison.
“One of the biggest issues is answering the question, ‘What happens to a person when they come out of prison,’” Nikkel told The Christian Post. “They’ve just come out of the most illogical of all society’s institutions. You can’t expect someone who has just hung out with a bunch of criminals at the university for crime to have a changed behavior.”
Even someone who has accepted Jesus Christ inside a prison has a difficult road ahead, Nikkel said.
“We often think locking people up solves the problem. However, sometimes people leave in worse shape than when they came in,” he pointed out. “We are encouraging our people to put in the same effort as they do ministering to people inside the prison as to when they come out.”
More than 9.8 million individuals are incarcerated around the world today, according to Prison Fellowship. The ministry was founded by Chuck Colson in 1976 and currently includes 50,000 volunteers who reach out to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families.
Nikkel said he is hoping that Christian churches become aware of the critical condition of the justice systems in the world today.
“I’m hoping that the Church will pay attention to the strategic opportunity we have to witness to the transforming power of Jesus Christ at the point of society’s greatest failure,” he said. “It is the intersection of two failures of the prison system: one being the failure of the individual offender and the other being the failure of society to make a bad man good.”
Nikkel said that he was impressed with many of the guest speakers, including theologian and author Jane Williams who talked about “God’s justice” at the conference on Wednesday.
“She gave a very powerful talk on grace, compassion, and mercy for those who have been marginalized by being in prison,” Nikkel recounted. “In other words, God doesn’t write people off.”
Carlo Paris, from a charter Prison Fellowship in Italy, said it was his first time attending the PFI Convocation, which concludes Saturday.
“I already feel inspired and enriched and it is only the first full day of the conference,” he said. “The speakers have been enlightening and the music engaging.”