We’ve all heard of the need to minister to “the least of these,” but who is the least of the least? Notice what Jesus said:
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:34-40, NKJV)
In His list of the leasts, Jesus lists those in prison last. By His own definition the prisoners are not just the least, but they are the “least of the least.” Though all may forget the plight of these precious souls, God does not. He identifies with them. He feels for them and seeks to comfort them. Jesus loves the least.
Paul writes, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8, KJV). And again, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29, NKJV).
A few go to prison because they were falsely accused. Some are there for political reasons. Others are persecuted for their faith, as were Peter, Paul, and Silas. But the grand majority of those incarcerated in prisons around the world are those who have committed grievous crimes. The Scriptures make no distinction when we are admonished to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them” (Hebrews 13:3, KJV). Psalm 69:33 says, “For the Lord hears the poor, and does not despise His prisoners.” Neither should we.
I recall those in the Scriptures who at one time spent time in custody: Joseph, Samson, Jeremiah, Micaiah, Zedekiah, Manasseh, Daniel, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Silas, Paul, Epaphras, Andronicus, Junia, and even Jesus himself were arrested. I think of Samson and Manasseh especially, who during their time in captivity sought the Lord and repented. Samson is mentioned in the faith chapter (Hebrews 11:32), and Manasseh went back to reigning as king over Judah (2 Chronicles 33:11-16). I could repeat with them the precious words of Scripture, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).
Prison Ministry Changes Lives
For over fourteen years, I was the least of the least. During that time, there were men and women who volunteered their time to minister to me and to others. They saw Jesus in prison grays, dressed in stripes, and in orange jumpsuits. They felt it their duty and privilege to speak words of hope and show by their actions that they cared. While certainly not all are called to reach out to those in juvenile halls, jails, prisons, and treatment centers, those who do are making a difference for eternity. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:32).
These people wrote letters that would come at just the right time. I read and reread the letters that I received. A personal letter holds its value in gold when in prison; it shows that someone cares. The encouragement and counsel those letters contain have helped to see me through many hardships. Because there are so many prisoners who have scammed kind and sacrificing church members, I found that there are very few willing to write. “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (Proverbs 25:25).
Visits were the most personal of all. During my time inside I received visits from pastors, elders, and elderly ladies. Friends who got to know me over the years would often come and see me as well. When I received honor status by staying conduct-violation free, I was allowed to have a food visit where the visitors could bring in a home-cooked meal. How precious were those visits! Of these people it will be said by Jesus, “I was in prison and you visited Me.”
Paul had a vision almost two thousand years ago in which a man of Macedonia asked him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Luke reports that “after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9, 10). Paul obeyed the divine call, and notice the results: Lydia and her household were saved, and later the Philippian church was raised up.
Interestingly, it was here in Philippi, because of his obedience, that Paul ended up “doing time” himself. Paul and Silas held a worship service, praying and singing hymns at midnight! Not only did the prisoners listen to these “ambassadors in bonds,” but that very night even a jailer and his family gave their hearts to Jesus.
Do those in prison have any less need to hear the everlasting gospel preached to them than did the Macedonians? Could it be said about prison ministry: “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2)? May we remember that “none are so vile, none have fallen so low, as to be beyond the working of this power. In all who will submit themselves to the Holy Spirit a new principle of life is to be implanted; the lost image of God is to be restored in humanity” (Christ’s Object Lessons, 96).
May the blessings of Almighty God be upon those who have sacrificed their time, their energies, their money, and sometimes even their reputation to minister to inmates. Whether it is through preaching, teaching, singing, playing instruments, or simply being there, their reward shall not be forgotten. God generously rewards those who sacrifice for those who cannot repay (Matthew 6:3; Luke 14:14; Proverbs 19:17). Interestingly, I have heard several “outmates” say that they are tremendously blessed by coming week after week to minister in prison.
It is important to consider that upwards of 95 percent of all of those in prison will one day be out of prison. They will stand behind you at the checkout counter, sit in front of you at church, or walk next to you down the street. They may very well be your neighbor next door.
Would you rather they be a spirit-filled, Christ-following, Bible-believing Christian, or just the same person they were when they first went into the penitentiary? We can make a difference now and for eternity by sowing seeds of redemption and hope among those who desperately need it.
This article is adapted from Chapter 33 of Wyatt Allen’s book The Least of the Least: From Crime to Christ, which tells the gripping story of his transformation from a teenage Satanist and violent felon to a devoted follower of Christ. The Least of the Least is available in print and e-book formats from Remnant Publications.