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The Unglamorous Truth About Prison Ministry

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For the last few years I've done different sorts of things on Fridays. This year, every Friday I wrote about what happened each week out at the prison during the Monday night Bible study I lead from 6:30 to 8:30 for about fifty inmates, whom we affectionately call "the Men in White."

I did "Prison Diary" this year because a lot of people wanted to hear more about my experiences out at the prison. So for this, our final entry, let me return to the reflection with which I started the year.

Prison ministry isn't all that exciting. Maybe you noticed that as the year went on, getting bored to the point of skipping these Friday installments.

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I get that. But there is magic in the boredom. As I said at the start of the year, prison ministry is about fidelity, showing up week after week, month after month, year after year. There is nothing particularly sexy or heroic about just showing up. Heart-wrenching and amazing stories aren't happening every Monday night.

Trouble is, though, we get addicted to those heroic stories. And the Christian publishing and speaking industry keeps us addicted to these heroic stories.

But I'm not a hero. And the Men in White aren't heroes. And what we experience on a typical Monday night isn't going to show up in a story for a book or the speaking circuit.

We're just small, broken people looking for grace in a sad, lonely, and very mean world. And from time to time, we find it with each other. Mostly in the smiles and hugs we share when we are reunited again each week. Grace, I think, always feels like coming home.

That is the story I've tried to tell you each Friday. Nothing spectacular or heroic.

We simply show up, and make ourselves available to this boring thing we call grace.

Richard Beck is author and professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University. You can follow him at

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