Sharing the Love of Jesus Behind Bars – Part IWritten by admin on Jul 07, 2020 in - No Comments
Sharing the Love of Jesus Behind Bars
A conversation with Josh Riggs, Part I
Joshua Riggs grew up in San Antonio Texas, and now lives with his wife and two children, ages 12 and 15, in Huntington, Vermont. When he became a follower of Jesus, Josh found himself praying for the inmates of the women’s prison in South Burlington every time he drove past. Fast forward a few years, and he has moved on from his career in window and door sales to serve as a minister with Church at Prison. In this two-part conversation, Josh shares a glimpse into the lives of the incarcerated, paints a picture of what church looks like in prison, and shares how we can be praying for Vermont inmates.
Church at the Well: When did you know you wanted to be a minister in a prison setting?
Josh Riggs: My interview with Pastors Pete and Joanne Fiske was supposed to be about thirty minutes, but I ended up spending three hours with them. During the interview, I met a Church at Prison participant, who was doing some yard work for them so he could pay his rent that month. This young man shared about how the church helped him through the utter misery of jail, and my heart was completely wrecked with God’s love and redemption. Soon after, I went into the prison for a church service, and I fell in love with the prison residents as well as the Church at Prison pastors and volunteers. I knew it was a true calling from God to pursue prison ministry.
Church at the Well: Would you paint a picture of what a worship service looks like in prison?
Josh Riggs: We all sit in a big circle in the prison’s visiting room, and we usually start out with prayer and a sermon. Then we open the circle up to share our hearts and talk about the sermon as well as what God is doing in our lives. This format allows space for those who are hurting to experience Christ’s healing love. Then we worship together. Worship is usually acapella since we are not allowed electronics; however, sometimes we are blessed with a guitar player since there is an acoustic guitar available in the facility. If time permits, we have a short message from a volunteer or resident, and we always end with corporate prayer. We invite everyone to share a request, and we pray for them together out loud as a group. Usually, there will be someone in the group whom Jesus desires to touch deeply, and we gather around them and lay hands on them in prayer. It’s a very moving experience and a beautiful celebration of Christ!
Church at the Well: Are there any special Church at Prison traditions?
Josh Riggs: We always play “Amazing Grace,” and it is a beautiful spiritual blessing to hear that song sung in a prison. There is truly nothing like it!
Church at the Well: What are some of the challenges of ministering in prison?
Josh Riggs: Jesus is always challenging prison ministers to examine their hearts to forgive what the world has deemed unforgivable. Working with sex offenders, in particular, has opened my heart deeper to the forgiveness found only in Christ. If a child molester has repented completely of their sins, never to turn back, and is resting in Jesus’s strength in their weakness, then they are forgiven and are a new person in Christ. PERIOD. Jesus has challenged me to forgive in a greater and deeper way those whom the world permanently labels unforgiven and forgotten.
Church at the Well: Would you share a story from your work in prison?
Josh Riggs: There are endless stories I could tell. I remember one evening when a resident whom I am very close to today came to Church at Prison and was in so much pain that he was screaming and sobbing. He had an infected boil on his armpit that had swollen to the size of an orange! He begged to go to the hospital but was only offered two Tylenol. I sat with him the entire service, praying over him, and as I prayed, the peace of the Lord came on him and sustained him through the brutal pain. I later found out he was rushed to the hospital the next morning, and the infected boil was surgically removed. Because the infection had gone untreated, he permanently lost the function of his hand. The following Sunday, he was so excited to see me and tell me what had happened. He was not bitter about being neglected, but filled with joy that I had sat and prayed with him while the Holy Spirit ministered peace to him. He is unable to read, so he sleeps with his Bible in his hands every night.
Church at the Well: How has ministering in prisons changed you?
Josh Riggs: Working in the prison system has opened my heart to the Fred Rogers’ quote inspired by the teachings of Jesus: “Every human being has value.” When we get to know someone intimately, we understand them more and judge them less. To love someone unconditionally means to look at everyone through God’s eyes and see God in everyone.
Stay tuned for Part II of this conversation with Josh Riggs, in which he shares about aftercare for inmates, how the coronavirus has changed life behind bars, and some ways we can be praying for Vermont inmates.
Josh Riggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.