God's New Normal
I’ve heard the phrase new normal so many times now that I’m actually starting to believe that we’re never going back to the way things were. For a while, I grieved for normal. I longed to go back to the days when we could enter a prison and just do what we were called to do–teach the Bible to federal inmates. Then things began to happen that made me wonder if we should actually be considering new ways to do things.
The first indication of this came with an email from a chaplain friend of mine. “I was talking about your program,” he wrote, “to another chaplain who is very interested in what you’re doing. Please call him.” So I did. My heart stirred when I learned that this man was indeed keen on having the Encounter Program in his institution. Then my heart sank when I found out the prison was seven hours away.
I agreed to meet with him anyway, thinking that I should never ignore an open door, even if it didn’t seem feasible. That was in March. Around that time, Prairie’s IT experts were scrambling to explore alternate forms of delivery for students who were unable to attend school in person due to COVID restrictions. The result: HyFlex classrooms where students can participate in classes that are streamed over the internet.
This didn’t directly address my problem because there is no internet in Canadian Prisons. But as I thought about it, I realized that all the HyFlex classes were being recorded and stored in a huge new data base at the college. Why couldn’t I use recorded lessons in remote locations? It turns out that with local assistance from a willing chaplain, it can be done.
On the long drive home, I began to think of other ways to apply this idea to even more institutions where the doors were closed to volunteers. I began to call some of the prisons to float my idea and got permission to supply these lessons to two of our current students for a trial run. One of them is still working on it, but the other just passed his course with top marks!
I contacted another institution about three hours away and the chaplain there loved the idea. In fact, because of the security level of that prison, he had the ability to stream content directly into the cells. But there was a problem: they couldn’t just
stream to some of them. It would be necessary to stream to all two hundred and sixty-eight cells. Would we be ok with that?
In just a few weeks, we went from being locked out of all the locations we were serving in to having the ability to offer the Encounter Bible program in almost any institution that was willing to accommodate it. I don’t know if this is the new normal, but I hope so!
More About Our Prairie College Prison Ministry
With the goal of bringing transformation and true heart change in Canada’s prisons, Prairie has introduced the Prison Bible Encounter Program, a college-level course of study that is changing lives inside the walls of Canadian Correctional Institutions. In September of 2016 the first class began at Bowden Institution, northwest of Three Hills. In early 2018, the program expanded to Drumheller, southeast of Three Hills, and then on to the Edmonton Institution in 2019.
When Gord came to Prairie College, the Prison Bible Encounter Program was just a dream. It was enough, however, for him to make a career change in anticipation of one day being involved in the lives of inmates. Today, as the leader of the Prison Bible Encounter program, Gord has shared the challenges and victories he has seen with many different audiences, and would be happy to share with yours.