By Carl Stagner
Oklahoma City’s Crossings Community Church has taken prison ministry to another level. For the influential capital city congregation, it’s not just about visitation, prayer, and preaching the gospel to the incarcerated. Earlier this year, Crossings celebrated the first anniversary of its satellite campus location altogether housed within the confines of Joseph Harp Correctional Center. The medium-security prison for men down the road in Lexington, Oklahoma, is not considered a mission site, a location for service projects, or even a local partner in ministry. Crossings Joseph Harp is a full-fledged campus of Crossings Community Church, and the effect of this unique arrangement on inmates and volunteers from the outside has been nothing short of life-changing.
Jeremiah Braudrick had been doing prison ministry “on the side” for about nine years. Before accepting the role of director of prison ministry for Crossings, this former youth pastor had been the director of their Community Center. Few knew of his passion for prison ministry but, through a series of providential events, it became anything but a secret. Starting with a bold move of bringing a simulcast of the Global Leadership Summit to Joseph Harp Correctional Center, and morphing into much more, Crossings influence on the prison an hour and fifteen minutes away grew ever stronger. But, so did the influence of the inmates on Jeremiah and the Crossings volunteers.
When volunteers first come to Joseph Harp to help conduct weekly worship services (now rotating on a monthly basis), they might imagine they’re pioneering the gospel behind bars. Little do they realize there’s been an inmate-led church at Joseph Harp, thriving for years and excelling at reaching hearts for Christ. Jeremiah explains, “When people think of prison ministry, they think we’re going to preach the gospel to hardened criminals who are going to give their lives to Christ. But, in my experience, there are already great leaders passionate for Christ, doing great things. Our volunteers feel the presence of God when the men worship, and quickly realize they, themselves, have a lot to learn. Those guys have had so much more of an impact on my life than I could have on theirs. Now, our volunteers go there to experience God afresh.”
Part of the reason for this spiritual vitality pervasive at the Joseph Harp campus is their understanding of grace. “I find that broken people are often more passionate about Christ,” Jeremiah reflects. “When you have nothing to offer God except wholehearted surrender, you find yourself being nearer to the very heart of God. I’m reminded of what the posture of my heart should be, and I’m reminded of the parable of the two men praying in the temple (Luke 18:10–14). I want to be like the broken man who recognized his great need for mercy.”
Being an actual campus of Crossings does wonders for the sense of belonging among the inmates. Reinventing the wheel would not have been helpful, so Crossings didn’t launch a new work but instead came alongside the existing prison church. “That DNA speaks volumes to the way we treat the inmates, the way we talk to them, the way we see them,” Jeremiah explains. “They’re not a target of the ministry, we’re not going there to fix them, and we’re not going there to give them a church to be a part of. One of the biggest needs these guys have is to be humanized. So many go into prisons preaching to them in a way that mostly just reminds them what they’ve done wrong and why they’re there in the first place. What they really need is someone to give them a sense of normalcy, reminding them that they have a future and a hope.”
Thus, everything they can do at the Oklahoma City campus and the Edmund campus they also do at Joseph Harp. While not everything translates into a prison setting, they do as much as they can—the donuts, the coffee, the hospitality, and so on. When Marty Grubbs comes on screen and welcomes everyone to the worship service, he specifically calls out those gathered at each campus. True to their spirit, the guys at Joseph Harp cheer loudly as they accept their rightful place in the family. And, though he cannot receive a salary, Crossings fully recognizes the campus pastor of Joseph Harp as one of their own!
Jeremiah’s vision for the future of Crossings’ prison ministry is great. He longs to see more and more prison campuses down the road, and the opportunity to effectively assist in the societal re-entry process. Please pray that God continues to use Crossings Joseph Harp to expand the kingdom in ways even beyond what we can imagine. Thank you!