In 2008, our founder Dr. Ken Curtis (1939–2011) wrote the introduction to a planned book of prison testimonies throughout church history. That book became CHI’s website Captive Faith , but Ken’s introduction was never published. We could not think of a better way to introduce this issue than by letting Ken do it. We also encourage you to look at Christian History issues 105, 109, and 116 for more about Christians in prison. Our commitment to prisoners continues to this day, as we mail free copies of CH to hundreds of prisoners each quarter.
Prison is not a pleasant subject, but, to judge by the number of books written and movies made about it, the public finds the topic fascinating. We are curious to see how the accused will handle themselves. Each of us knows in our gut that it could be us next, perhaps involved in a road accident that would put us behind bars for negligent homicide. False arrests and wrongful convictions do happen. And Christians in many parts of the world go to prison for their faith.
From Peter and Paul down to our own day, bearers of the Gospel have spent a lot of time in prison and written about their prison experiences. Jesus taught that the sheep and goats are separated on the basis of how they have treated others, including, “I was in prison and you visited me.” Consequently Christians have a long tradition of visiting prisoners, redeeming captives, and attempting to improve prison conditions. But the real reasons for our interest are more personal.
Christian History Institute has made significant accomplishments with a small staff and small budget. Part of its success, we believe, is owing to the prayers of prisoners. We used to issue Glimpses, a bulletin insert of people and events from the church across the ages. Some of its most avid readers were men and women who had come to faith in Christ in prison. They sought to ground themselves more in the history of God’s people while serving out their sentences, and we would mail them free copies, asking only for prayers for the institute, its staff, and ministries.
Furthermore one of our institute’s good friends, Robert Downing, is a former judge in Louisiana who visited prisoners with the Gospel and worked with their families in his off hours. Through him we became aware of the revival in Angola that saw hundreds of prisoners in one of the toughest institutions in the world transformed by the grace of Christ. Finally Dan Graves, a long-time contributor to Christian History Institute, served as a prison librarian for almost 20 years. (See “Paradoxes of prison,” p. 19.)
So we ask, what can we learn from the Christian prison experience? How did God’s grace appear to those in prison? How can the experiences of Christian prisoners assist modern prisoners to transcend their circumstances? And how have Christians worked to assist those in prison down through the years?
This issue gives examples of a wide spectrum of prison experiences from biblical accounts of imprisonment to the twentieth century. Some of the most famous writings of Western civilization took form within prison walls. We believe that the excerpts and accounts that follow will be of interest to all readers and an inspiration to all who desire to know God better. CH
A. Kenneth Curtis
Christian History magazine
Note: When Ken visited Angola in 2007, a film crew helped capture the revival there in the one-hour documentary Blessedness out of Brokenness, which you can view for free at captivefaith.org. Contact us through the form in the center of this issue if you prefer a DVD copy. We are pleased to offer this as our gift to you.
This article is from Christian History magazine #123 Captive Faith. Read it in context here!