iStock_000005506764Small Thirty years ago, Tom de Vries started Crossroad Bible Institute along with his family members and his circle of friends at church. Tom was a real estate agent turned car salesman who had an ardent passion for prison ministry.

As Tom ministered to the men behind prison bars, he recognized that solid evangelism was happening. But he also believed that prisoners needed something beyond a decision for Christ. He wanted to see prisoners become disciples of Christ, learning “everything I have commanded them,” as Jesus said in the Great Commission.

To that end, Tom began to meet with the same prisoners week after week in the Kent County Jail so he could build a long-term mentoring relationship with them. But he soon grew discouraged. As those who have worked in prison ministry know, prisoners are transferred frequently. Tom would return to the jail to meet with his students only to discover that they were gone.

Tom’s brother, Jim, still remembers the Friday when Tom marched back to the office with a determined look on his face. “I have to find a way to keep in touch with my guys!” Tom declared.

So the de Vries brothers set out to find a solution. Eventually, they decided to create Bible studies with personal letters of discipleship in hopes that a long-term program could develop and follow prisoners no matter how many times they were transferred. Out of these Bible studies and personal letters, Crossroad was born.

The ministry grew slowly but surely—mostly by word of mouth—for the first fifteen years until the late nineties, when, thanks to the help of Rev. David Feddes at The Back to God Hour, Crossroad began spreading across North America. It was then that Tom de Vries and Crossroad’s board began a yearlong discussion with me about coming on to serve as CBI’s first full-time president.

Fifteen years ago, I accepted that call and nowhere else have I seen God move quite like He has with this ministry as CBI rapidly expanded in America and around the world, all while maintaining its core mission of providing personal, long-term discipleship to prisoners.

And year after year, the testimonies of our students compel us to continue building on the foundation Tom established thirty years ago. J.D., a CBI student in Massachusetts, wrote to us recently about how his CBI studies are changing his life:

“CBI has been an immense blessing to me. I have been challenged by the lessons and forced to think. Now Bible studying is the first thing I make time for every day. I came to prison a shell of a man with a destroyed life. Now I am daring to dream again and daring to plan for the future. The Lord truly can work miracles and the change in my life is one miracle of which CBI has been a big part.”

It is truly humbling to see how God grew CBI from its fledgling start thirty years ago so that it can bless students like J.D. today. Filled with thanks for God’s blessing, I want to share with you the highlights happening at Crossroad over the last fifteen years.

Explosive Growth
Crossroad continues to serve a special niche in the Great Commission, partnering with evangelistic ministries to disciple their respondents. For the hundreds of prison chaplains and agencies who value supplemental, long-term discipleship—such as Bill Glass Champions for Life and RBC Ministries—CBI has become their go-to ministry for the prisoners they serve.

CBI International
Crossroad’s explosive growth is also taking off around the world with established and emerging satellite campuses on all six livable continents. Each campus is led by indigenous directors who train church members to disciple prisoners in their own countries. The dedication of these directors shows that the great need for long-term discipleship in American prisons is also present in prisons across the globe.

Life Skills Program
It’s been a fifteen-year dream to develop a practical life skills program to meet the needs of returning citizens, namely in the areas of work ethic, family, financial stewardship and community. The courses are being received worldwide with open arms and will hopefully have a dramatic impact on a prisoner’s chances of success on the outside.

Reentry Assistance
Crossroad now partners with over 1,500 reentry agencies who help our students find jobs, housing and churches to call home. Reentry agencies are delighted to help Crossroad students because they have track records of success from completing our courses along with detailed, recorded evaluations from CBI Instructors.

While Crossroad’s goal is to change students’ hearts so that they can make better life choices, we know that broken systems in society can make this transformation difficult. For this reason, I serve on the Communities of Faith Advisory Council at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University of Law, which advocates for the re-enfranchisement of returning citizens. Other avenues of advocacy include my appointment to Governor Rick Snyder’s Michigan Indigent Defense Commission and my support of sentencing reform, the “Ban the Box” movement and restorative justice practices that better reflect biblical views of justice.

Crossroad College International
As recently announced, our Tier 3 program, which has been offering college-level courses for fifteen years, is about to expand so that Crossroad can offer a fully accredited, two-year Associate of Arts degree. Following our first-rate Tiers 1 and 2, these college courses will serve as Crossroad’s deepest level of discipleship for those who have the intellectual and spiritual aptitude to participate.

Public Awareness and CBI.TV
It takes the whole church for prisoners and returning citizens to get the help they need. That’s why Crossroad provides newsletters and e-blasts to keep you informed of the church’s ministry to the least of these. In addition, our fifteen-minute radio show has morphed into a thirty-minute web and cable TV program that provides lively, top-shelf education for everyone. You can watch Crossroad Connection every week at www.cbi.tv or on five local cable channels in West Michigan.

When I reflect on Crossroad’s growth over the years, I can only feel grateful and excited to see what the future holds. After serving fifteen years as Crossroad’s president, I’m more excited than ever about where God is leading this ministry.

In thirty years, God has never failed to work in the hearts of people like you to support this ministry and move it forward. Looking back, surely God touched the hearts of Tom de Vries, his family and his church friends when they started this ministry thirty years ago. Look where God has taken it! Just imagine where He’s going to bring it.

Dr. H. David Schuringa serves as the president of Crossroad Bible Institute.