WASHINGTON (BP)–Chuck Colson, Franklin Graham and Charlie Daniels are going to jail this Easter.
No, they haven’t been arrested and don’t plan on being booked for an act of civil disobedience or even an unpaid parking ticket. Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, and Graham, president of the Samaritan’s Purse relief organization, will launch “Operation Starting Line,” a collaboration of more than a dozen Christian ministries, on Easter Sunday at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown, Del.
The April 23 event will kick off an effort by athletes, musicians, comedians, clergy and thousands of volunteers from across the country to reach every federal and state prison in the nation in the next five years through 55 state and multi-state campaigns. Earlier this year for the first time, the nation’s prison population topped 2 million.
Country music legend Daniels and his band will join Colson and Graham at Sussex Correctional from noon to 3 p.m. The event also will include musical performances by several contemporary Christian artists as well as strong man/weightlifter Clark Bartram.
Operation Starting Line was launched to take the gospel to the 6 million-plus men and women under correctional supervision in the United States, including those incarcerated or on probation or parole, said project spokesman Terry White, Prison Fellowship Ministries’ vice president of communications.
According to a recent study published in the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Justice Quarterly, prisoners who participated in 10 or more Prison Fellowship Bible studies were 66 percent less likely to recidivate. “The goal of OSL is to further reduce recidivism by providing hope to prisoners,” White said.
Said Colson: “Without a moral and spiritual change of heart, released inmates will likely return to temptations, associations and activities that stimulate more criminal actions.” Nationwide, two-thirds of ex-offenders later return to prison.
Two Southern Baptist North American Mission Board staff members are among Operation Starting Line’s organizers. Kenneth Ellis, a member of OSL’s operations task force, is NAMB’s national coordinator for restorative justice ministries. Serving on the OSL policy-planning committee is Robert C. Vickers, NAMB’s director of chaplaincy evangelism.
OSL campaigns will feature athletes, entertainers and speakers in special high-energy programs. Participants will visit the prison cellblocks to reach those who are not allowed to leave their cells.
Operation Starting Line will provide follow-up programming in the prisons after the initial event, including Bible studies, seminary training, career and family support, and the matching of prisoners with mentors in local churches upon their release. “We hope to have a life-changing impact on all of our nation’s prisoners,” White said.
In addition to NAMB, among Operation Starting Line’s participating ministries are the American Bible Society, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Campus Crusade for Christ, Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship (CHIEF), Intercessors for America, National Black Evangelical Association, Navigators, Mission America, Promise Keepers and Walk Thru the Bible.