Who do you think of when you are asked who is a hero?
You may have responded with the name of a world leader, a movie star, Superman, Captain America, or maybe you thought of a person who saved someone in a crisis such as a police officer.
Some of us may have thought of a family member or friend.
As Christians, our heroes may be those who led us to Christ, our pastor, or others in ministry who are impacting lives. While some of these may be real-life heroes, many of the true heroes are those behind the scenes who are doing courageous acts or operating with noble character.
One such group of unexpected Christian heroes comes from an unexpected location: the prisons. While 2.1 million people are currently incarcerated in the United States, there are ministries and programs that are positively changing the lives of many inmates to become productive citizens.
Many are changing because they have accepted Jesus Christ and are now working to serve the Lord and others. Nationwide, there is a positive Christian movement afoot in the many of the prisons and these men and women are getting out and making a difference in their communities.
We have people coming out from the prison systems who are now determined to make a difference in the lives of others.
Here are a few examples of these unexpected heroes:
- A woman, who after her release from prison, wanted to serve God and others so she started a coffee shop. She hires only ex-felons and serves the community by producing robust coffee. She and the staff are sharing what God has done in their lives with the customers and are boldly stepping forward to proclaim what Christ has done for them and what he can do for others.
- A man gets out and decides to help other incarcerated men re-enter society. He and others start a re-entry program and now have facilities that house dozens. They help people reconnect with society, gain employment, connect with their family, and get back on their feet, while sharing the love of Christ.
- A woman on death row who became a Christian in prison and started speaking into other women’s lives in the prison. She mentored them and led dozens of women to Christ. Often, she spoke to them through the vent system and shared her testimony about who Christ was in her life. Dozens of women were led to Christ by this one woman standing firm in her faith for Christ and realizing she could go and make disciples even though in prison.
- A few years after release from prison, a man felt called by God to pastor a church. He went to the inner city, similar to where he grew up, and began to share about Christ. People started gathering as they saw he understood their challenges and the church began. Now he ministers to hundreds every week.
- A formerly incarcerated man is now a prison Chaplain serving the inmates daily as an employee for the state. He desires to help people in the same way many volunteers helped him while he was inside the prison and wants to see people come to know Christ.
- A former gang leader and incarcerated person, finds Jesus Christ in prison. He changes his behavior, life, thinking, and approach to others. Upon release he becomes a pastor and impacts many with his testimony and behavior change. Now, he also goes back into prison as a volunteer in a ministry to serve and help the incarcerated men change as he did.
The list can go on and on with specific examples of these unexpected heroes.
Men and women are choosing to make a difference in other people lives and positively impact society. In general, they are the people society thought we should be afraid of or not trust.
But as Christians, we know that when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, great changes take place in our life. These people are doing great things to impact other people and share how Jesus Christ has changed their life.
As a leader of an international prison ministry, I hear stories every day of people inside prison and those released that many would consider unexpected heroes. People who have committed a crime or done something wrong but have chosen to make changes in their life and who are determined to make a difference in the lives of others.
These formerly incarcerated people have a powerful testimony and as they share how Jesus Christ changed their life they are impacting the lives of many others. What I witness in hearing these stories is 1 Peter 4:10-11 working through the service of these unexpected heroes:
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Isn’t it just like Jesus to use those who are broken, made mistakes, and are rejected by society to be an example to many others, to use their gifts, to serve, and to become unexpected Christian heroes?
Evelyn Lemly is CEO of Kairos Prison Ministry International.