‘Our God isn’t bound by bars or prison walls’

The Message’s prison team take the gospel of Jesus to some of the most broken and vulnerable people in the UK and are seeing breakthrough for repentance, salvation and healing. We talked to offender worker Joe Brady to find out more.

I see my job as a ministry of introductions. In a prison you don’t have to spend much time convincing inmates that they are broken and sinners – they know that already. It’s my job to simply point them towards the one who makes them whole.’

With a background in theological study and work with student intervention and community youth work, Joe joined the prisons team in September 2017. In a given week he’ll lead Bible study groups, the Alpha course, the Peacemakers course, creative arts workshops and discipleship courses along with individual ‘detached’ work on the prison wings and a monthly Sunday service in the chapel.

God is constantly showing me that he is greater than we can imagine

It’s seeing broken lives being made whole that brings Joe the most joy and encouragement. Recently, he met an inmate who had previously been a Royal Marine. He’d witnessed the death of his best friend while on tour in Afghanistan and his girlfriend had died in an accident the following year. But what broke him was when his young son fell ill and died just six months later. It drove him to make some poor decisions.

‘He was a broken man. Forty-five minutes after his son had passed away he found himself in the back of a police car. When I first met him, he had lost all hope. Even though he wasn’t sure about God he came along to our Sunday services and other groups during the week. At one Sunday service he raised his hand as he made the decision to give his life to Jesus. He now recognises Jesus as his saviour and that it is only through him that he can have life. He’s a broken man who is in the process of being made whole.’

In the eight months that Joe has been working in this prison he has seen the power of God at work in a remarkable way. During this time, no fewer than 186 men have chosen to give their lives to Christ through his ministry.

‘God has shown me time after time that he can do the impossible. I’m often guilty of pessimism and I ask for too little from God. I’ll ask God for one or two responses to a gospel message and then 25 men will respond. God is constantly showing me that he is greater than we could imagine.’

Nothing is more exciting than the miracle of salvation for Joe. But God is at work in other ways too. He got to know one inmate quite well through several of the midweek discipleship and Bible study groups. At one session the man asked for prayer for himself and his family – his seven-year-old nephew was seriously ill and had been put on life support. The doctors had made the decision to turn off the machine in 48 hours because the condition was so serious, and it wasn’t fair to keep the boy alive. Joe gathered the other men in the group and they prayed.

‘As we were praying I felt God prompt me to pray for healing. I thought, “No way!” This was the bleakest of situations. If I asked God for healing and the boy died, what would the man think of me? What would he think of God? I kept feeling prompted to pray for healing and so eventually I did.’

It was nine days before Joe saw him again.

‘I’d assumed the worst had happened. I saw him in the wing and went up to him, sheepishly to be honest, to ask how him and his family were. “Have you not heard?” he said. “My nephew has recovered and is back at home with his family!” I had tears in my eyes. This young boy was given 48 hours to live and within just nine days the doctors had decided he was well enough to be sent home. The men we’re working with are bound by the bars and walls of the prison, but our God is not!’

In a prison of over a thousand inmates, our outreach workers can only work with a small number of the men – mainly those who are willing to come to the chaplaincy.

I do my best to equip inmates to go back into the wings each night and speak to those who I can’t reach. That’s how the atmosphere of these prisons will change

‘What we really want is to see stories of Sauls becoming Pauls. The most fruitful part of our ministry is not what I do but what the men who I work with do. They go back to the hostile environment of the prison wings and tell their mates about the Jesus they’ve encountered.

‘I was talking to a guy from the Bible study group who casually mentioned that a Muslim friend was arguing with him about who Jesus was. He had given him his Bible, shown him the gospels and said, “Read this. It will tell you who Jesus is.” His friend came back to him a few days later saying he recognised that Jesus was the truth and he now wanted to follow him!

‘I’m there three days a week and have to make the most of it. I need to do my best to equip these inmates who go back into the wings each night and speak to those who I can’t reach. That’s how the atmosphere of these prisons will change.’