Vicki Funk. [Sandra Mendez]

August 28, 2023

Letters from Joliet

Initiating Opportunities for Inmates to Experience God

My experience in prison ministries began back in 2017 when I read an article published by Project Steps to Christ about a woman who was sending cards to individuals in custody. I thought to myself, “I can do that.” The main obstacle was getting a list of individuals to send cards. I contacted Stateville Correctional Center, which is located just a few miles from my church, the Joliet Seventh-day Adventist Church, about an hour south of Chicago. I had been passing that prison on my way to church school and church since 1969, not giving much thought to the people behind those high walls. Feeling impressed by the Holy Spirit, I moved forward and called the prison.  

I was transferred to Chaplain Adamson, who promptly told me to send him a proposal of what I would like to do. I told him that all I needed was a list of men I could send cards to. He told me to email him a proposal. After the phone call, feeling somewhat baffled by his request, I began to reach out to others for some ideas. I was referred to Jason Bradley at 3ABN, who gave me the name of Lemuel Vega with Christmas Behind Bars. Not familiar with that organization, I contacted him to find out how he could help. Little did I realize at that point how involved Lemuel Vega was with prison ministries.  

On April 19, I met in person with the prison’s senior chaplain, George Adamson, to discuss sharing the gospel with individuals in custody at Stateville Correction Center in Illinois. I must tell you that this was an amazing meeting, showing how God opens doors for His work to go forward.    

I had previously sent Chaplain Adamson a list of the things that I wanted to do for the inmates, and he approved almost every one of them. Here are three of the requests that were approved: (1) Through the ministry Christmas Behind Bars, provide each inmate with a bag that includes items such as the book “Steps to Christ,” free Bible Study correspondence, and food; (2) Provide books, snacks, paper, pencils and other items; (3) Directly correspond with inmates through birthday and Christmas cards, etc. Chaplain Adamson asked me how many inmates I would like to correspond with, and for some reason I said 500. It must have been the Holy Spirit, for clearly, I do not know what I was thinking!   

During my meeting with the chaplain, he was asked if we could provide a religious program for the inmates. He stated he had no openings at that time, however he looked at me and said, “I want you to do a Bible study on Daniel and Revelation, starting in June or August.” Me? What else could I say but yes! As I left the prison that day, my faith was so encouraged seeing how the Lord was opening the doors to minister to these men.

[Sandra Mendez]
[Sandra Mendez]

The Joliet Seventh-day Adventist Church had just completed a Daniel and Revelation Seminar for the public. During this time, Pastor Adrian Amarandei had asked me to participate in conducting the seminar. Little did I know that God was already preparing me to teach this same series at Stateville. 

On Sept. 7, 2018, I began my Bible study on Daniel and Revelation with about 30 men. As time went on, I noticed that some men would stop attending, and others would come. I believe that before that class was over, I handed out over 100 Bible study sets, magazines, books and other materials. During the classes they would ask me questions on other doctrines, Bible texts and my beliefs.  

I continued to teach at Stateville, covering other books of the Bible, including Ezekiel and then moving on to Romans, until COVID-19 hit. But once again God has opened the door for me to reenter and teach the men behind those walls. This has been a wonderful opportunity for witnessing. Through the ministry of Christmas Behind Bars we have been able to deliver gift bags to the men at Stateville every year since 2018, as well as other prisons in Illinois. Our goal is to deliver gift bags to every prison in Illinois. So far, with God’s blessings, we have been able to deliver gift bags to 13 correctional facilities in Illinois.   

Even during the pandemic, church members sent out over 300 cards and religious materials. My list of individuals has grown to over 550 men. We continue to let these men know they have not been forgotten and that God loves them. We not only send out cards, but at least once a year we mail literature and cards for them to request Bible studies.    

With this ministry, God is moving on the hearts of these men. Several have requested free Bible studies, Bibles and other religious materials, and expressed a desire to be baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I receive letters weekly with their expressions of appreciation, and even tithe and offerings for the church. Never did I think I would be the one who God would use to reach those behind prison walls and yet He had been preparing me for this ministry before I even knew it.    

I want to give special thanks to the members of the Joliet Seventh-day Adventist Church and others who have donated their time and funds for this ministry, and appreciation for the dedication of Christmas Behind Bars, who has been instrumental in delivering gift bags to several correctional facilities across the State of Illinois.  

Vicki Funk is outreach coordinator for the Joliet Seventh-day Adventist Church.