A ministry behind bars
Extension Studies shares Christ with inmates.
In 1949, the Extension Studies Department at territorial headquarters began ministering to prisoners throughout the Western Territory with Bible correspondence courses. To date, thousands of incarcerated men and women have participated.
“We have a heart for inmates and we desire to get the Word of God into their hands and then into their hearts,” said Bob Zerhusen, assistant to the director. “We believe the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16) and have seen the powerful work of God in the hearts of inmates as God’s Word transforms them.”
The program’s mission is to encourage Bible learning and spiritual growth by making Bible study materials readily available to men and women in correctional facilities. The course, offered in English and Spanish, covers the Old and New Testaments and offers both an elementary and a continuing curriculum. The elementary level contains six courses with 12 lessons each. If the individual scores 70 percent or better, they can continue to the next course. A certificate of completion is awarded at the end of each course.
The staff consists of Director Major Faye Nishimura, Kathy Paris, Bertha Salguero, Zerhusen, and over 80 volunteers who assist in grading lessons. A total of 31,402 students have enrolled in the program since 1993. In 2007, staff and volunteers graded over 36,000 lessons.
In addition to the correspondence courses, the program staff and volunteers also visit the prisons and send birthday and Christmas cards to inmates.
“It’s a joy to get to meet the inmates, pray and worship with them, share Scripture, and build personal relationships,” Zerhusen said. “Many of these inmates have experienced incredible suffering and hard lives. While they have done things that were clearly wrong; nevertheless, the grace and love of God extends to all types of people.”
Three years after her release from prison, one woman who had participated in the program wrote: “I don’t believe that I could have endured prison life without the help of your Bible lessons. I cannot begin to express what your work does in the prison system for women like me. Your studies completely helped change my life and I continue to give my life to Christ.” She also reported that she has earned an associate’s degree, is working on a bachelor’s degree in Nursing and has married a Christian man. “It’s all because of the blessings of Jesus and your prayers and Bible studies that I have been able to overcome the tragic life I had before I found Christ.”
Another inmate expressed in a thank you note, “I want you to know that we are growing in God’s word and we do apply what we learn to our lives. We are learning more about God’s plan for our lives. The studies show us that we have hope.”
“We believe that the power of prayer drives this ministry,” Zerhusen said. “Pray specifically that we are able to get the Word of God into the hands of the inmates.”