Not unlike closed mission fields, this population needs acculturated ministers.
Maximum security prisons, although located inside the United States, are a world apart, and are akin to a closed mission field.
The barriers enacted to ensure security are much like the prohibitive borders of a foreign country, preventing outside access to a world radically different from the one beyond the walls. Furthermore, the culture of prison is an alien one, replete with foodways, folkways, language, and behavioral expectations that define an alternative way of life requiring years of acclimation before one can begin to understand the unique challenges faced by the incarcerated.
Although the church is called to minister to the prisoner (i.e. Matt. 25:31-25 and Heb.13:3), accessing them is no easy feat. There are forms to be completed, security screenings to pass, guards at the gate and throughout the cellblocks, and a host of security features that limit in-depth relationships.
Once inside, the amount of time and access is limited, and understanding prison culture in a sufficient manner to translate the gospel into the inmate’s context can take years. In short, fulfilling the call is difficult for those entering from the outside.
Taking a cue from contemporary missiology, Christian universities and seminaries have begun envisioning a new way of reaching those inside such closed worlds.
Missiologist Ray Bakke has long contended that the ideal way to reach an indigenous population is not to import foreign missionaries, but rather to train and equip local leaders for the task. This way, the steep learning curve of acculturation is bypassed. Those who already understand the unique vagaries of life inside an alien culture already have many of the skills required to reach their fellow citizens, lacking only the training …
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