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A Healthy Cult

A lively response by one unusual audience shows how God's power transforms culture.
2000This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

In 25 years of ministry I've spoken to all kinds of crowds, but never to a more enthusiastic group than I encountered this winter in Newton, Iowa. When I finished speaking, 140 smiling men startled me by jumping to their feet. As if on command, they shouted in unison,

"This is my Bible … a lamp unto my feet … a light unto my path."

With each phrase, they clutched their Bibles and thrust them heavenward. The sound reverberated off the concrete walls.A Promise Keepers meeting? Young Life? No, these were prison inmates at the dedication of the second Christian-run facility started by Prison Fellowship. I was unprepared for such enthusiasm. The facility had just opened, hardly allowing time for the men—many of whom were not Christians when they arrived—to get adjusted. Iowa, after all, is the corn belt, not the Bible belt.While mixing with the men at lunch, I heard none of the customary prison griping, but plenty of excitement over newfound faith. One "lifer" announced he was excited to be in prison:

"I'm spending my life on a mission to win prisoners to Jesus."

I left that day with my spirit refreshed by the almost childlike faith of these men. For me the visit was like flipping through the pages of Jonathan Edwards's Narrative of Surprising Conversions, the classic chronicle of the Great Awakening of the 1730s. The thrill never fades when witnessing God rescuing lives from despair.But the transformation of the prison itself was as dramatic as the change I saw in these men. Over the years, I've visited more than 600 prisons in 40 countries. Most are dreary, often dirty, depressing places. Men and women shuffle around listlessly with vacant expressions and their heads down. Anger, bitterness, and corruption are prevalent; one seldom ...

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Charles Colson
Charles Colson was the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, an outreach to convicts, victims of crime, and justice officers. Colson, who converted to Christianity before he was indicted on Watergate-related charges, became one of evangelicalism's most influential voices. His books included Born Again and How Now Shall We Live? A Christianity Today columnist since 1985, Colson died in 2012.
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