A used book ministry, as of this month, is sending Christian books and Bibles to prisons in all 50 U.S. states, according to an announcement Tuesday.
Though Christian Library International was founded in 1996, the ministry only began distributing Christian literature to prisons in 2003. But within a few years, CLI saw the great demand inside U.S. prisons and focused exclusively on providing such materials to inmates.
The ministry has grown from 32 outreaches to now over 1,000, supplying to U.S. prisons, jails and youth detention centers.
"It was like grabbing a tiger by the tail," says CLI missions director Anders Skaar. "We could clearly see the fruit in the letters we received from both chaplains and inmates."
"Prisons are the great evangelism opportunity of the 21st century," he added.
Based in Raleigh, N.C., CLI receives books from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which is also located in North Carolina, and Prison Fellowship. It also partners with several Family Christian Stores who ask their customers to purchase a prison Bible for CLI at the checkout counter.
But most book donations come from Christian publishers, authors, churches, individuals, Christian schools and other ministries. To date, over 150 churches across the nation have sent Christian books to CLI.
One inmate, named Jose Garcia of Vacaville, Calif., wrote a letter to the ministry to thank it for the Bible he received.
"I was in need of a Spanish Bible so of course I prayed about it," Garcia wrote. "Two weeks later the Lord answered my prayer and used your ministry to help. And (Praise God!), instead of just a Spanish Bible I got a bilingual version. Hallelujah! Now I hold a Spanish Bible study in my wing. I pray that the Lord blessed your ministry."
While ministering to the hurt and hopeless in prisons has always been important, some say recent events have made prison ministry more important than ever.
In a 2007 report, the New York Police Department recognized that prisons can serve as a "radicalizing cauldron" where "disaffected" inmates can be turned into violent Muslims.
Just two weeks ago, police foiled a plot to bomb two New York synagogues and shoot down military planes. The four men charged in the terrorist plot are Americans who had converted to Islam while in prison.
"[R]adical imams feed off the discontent of these prisoners – this large and captive audience – and turn them into extremists capable of deplorable acts against American society," commented Peter Connors, executive director of The Clarion Fund, which recently released the documentary film "The Third Jihad - Radical Islam's Vision for America."
In the film is a segment that discusses "Prison Islam" and how Muslim extremists are entering U.S. correctional facilities as chaplains to recruit terrorists.
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a devout Muslim who is president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and narrator of "The Third Jihad," responded to the recent foiled bomb plot in New York by affirming that "many Islamist imams are aggressively recruiting inmates in our prisons with ideologies that fuel 'home-grown' terror."
He added, "It's significant that this terrorist plot was targeted against synagogues, underscoring the dangerous hatred promoted by radical imams in American prisons."
Jasser, who is a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, has urged American Muslims, the majority of which are non-violent, to reject political Islam.
He calls on them to counter the "well-coordinated" and "well-funded" Islamic programs that exist in the United States.