Crossroads is an ideal way to quietly disciple new believers
Antoinique Bowman and Breilyn Shemar discovered Crossroads separately through the encouragement of an outreach pastor at the church they attend, One Community Church, and they both immediately saw it as an opportunity to support new believers despite their demanding work schedules.
They each were drawn to prison ministry on a personal level because of family members who had faced incarceration. They were also compelled by their Dallas-Fort Worth church’s motto: Where No One Walks Alone. The motto provides comfort to members and a challenge to walk alongside others on their faith journey.
“For us to have prison ministries and partner with Crossroads, we are really living up to that motto,” Breilyn said. “If you are going to feel alone anywhere, it is probably going to be prison, so if they can know that people on the outside care about them, we are doing our job as a church.”
In churches across the United States, the call to minister to those in need and nurture new believers resounds. While many opportunities exist to respond to this call, some find that Crossroads is the ideal outreach ministry for them.
A pastor’s perspective
Prison ministry is often a lower-profile church outreach program. People often don’t think of it because the people served are locked away. In addition, it can demand a significant amount of time to visit correctional facilities, and many people don’t feel comfortable going inside a jail or prison. Crossroads provides a compelling alternative.
At Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, fifty-seven members have responded to the call and serve as Crossroads mentors.
“Obviously, the Bible speaks to caring for those in need, and as much as we possibly can, we want to point people to the hope we have in Christ,” said Matt Ross, associate pastor at Parkside. Matt added that Crossroads appeals to people who are quieter by nature.
“It’s not immediate and in front of us like our children’s and student ministries, but below the surface, it’s a great outlet to serve,” Matt said. “Knowing how to communicate biblical truths in simplistic ways is often more challenging than we realize. Mentors learn how to meet people where they are, and they are challenged not only to understand Scripture, but they are challenged in their ability to communicate it to those who may have little insight into the Bible. Mentors are growing in their ability to make Scripture accessible and to lead people to grow in their faith.”
Quiet but mighty disciples
David Shold, a member of Parkside Church, and his wife, Marty, have dedicated more than two decades to mentoring Crossroads students.
“At church the last two to three years, there has been an emphasis on discipleship, especially in the evening services and small groups,” David said. “We talk about how to help people move along on the timeline from little knowledge to spiritual growth and maturity. Mentors see that message as being deeply relevant.”
Prior to volunteering with Crossroads, David had never seriously considered prison ministry because he “wasn’t too keen” on the thought of going into jails or prisons.
“I’m not too good at public speaking, but I can write a letter,” he said. “When we heard about Crossroads, we felt this is something we should be doing. We are called to make disciples, and for someone like me, Crossroads provides a way to be involved in doing that,” he said. He and Marty mentor students in all three levels of study offered by Crossroads, and they have developed strong discipleship skills over the years.
“It has enabled me to come up with a two- to three-sentence summary of just what the Gospel is,” said David. That enables me to write a short paragraph to tell students that God has a plan for us. Nothing we do can make it right, but God made things right with His Son, who makes eternal life available. I would have a hard time articulating that in a face-to-face conversation, but I can write it to my students.”
Fellow Parkside Church member Luci Swearingen agrees that Crossroads suits her and others like her who enjoy one-on-one interactions and study. She sees a close alignment between her church’s focus on biblical study and her service as a mentor.
“The core of Parkside is the Word of God and having committed followers of Jesus Christ,” Luci said. “Crossroads satisfies both because we want to learn with our students, and we want to share. We can share in our letters that we are on par with our students because we are students of the Word of God, too, and we are sharing together.”
Like any good study partner, Luci enjoys researching the questions her students ask.
“I am so blessed to have Bible commentaries on my shelf that I can use to help my brothers and sisters in prison. I can go online and find twenty Bible translations to find a translation that makes a passage a little clearer to the student. I have these resources, and they need to be used in the Kingdom of God,” Luci said. “They are hungry for spiritual answers to the most important questions you can ask in your lifetime on the most important journey anyone can make, and I want to be there with them.”
No one walks alone
Breilyn and Antoinique, two of the eleven mentors at One Community Church, said the most unexpected part of mentoring has been the spiritual gifts that mentoring has given them. Breilyn, for instance, has learned to extend encouragement to those he encounters daily, mirroring the generous encouragement he imparts to his students. And he has grown from the things his students write in their lessons.
“Some of them really know their Bible, and they helped me learn,” Breilyn said. “They helped me see we are no different. Just because they are incarcerated doesn’t mean they don’t deserve our love and support, and I have to make sure they know that with every lesson.”
Antoinique acknowledged that her students have also enriched her faith in unexpected ways.
“I love to write, so God knew exactly what I needed at that time when I heard about Crossroads,” she said. “What I didn’t expect was that God would use them to speak to me. God uses everything, and sometimes He uses students to tell us things we need to hear if we just stop to listen.”
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