Jehovah’s Witnesses continue their ministry inside prisons without sending in ministers.
“I had no idea that was going to be the last time I walked through those double gates,” said Bubba Cobb of Charleston, Mississippi. For years he had been making regular trips to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman to help inmates build a relationship with God. He would meet with a group of usually 10 to 15 inmates in a regular bible study course. “I thought we would be back next week to have another study, just like we had been doing,” says Cobb.
Without warning, COVID-19 would shut down access to prisons across the US, including those in Mississippi. Inmates were soon cut off from a robust Bible education program that included weekly Bible-based discourses, audience discussions, individual Bible studies, and video presentations.
“Our concern was for them,” said Dan Houghton, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who volunteers with the prison ministry. “They needed us now more than ever. They were cut off from their life-line of spiritual feeding.”
Rhonda Jones, a jailer at Newton County Correctional Facility in Decatur could see the impact that the pandemic was having on the inmates there.
“They were more irritable and angry. Not having visitors and not being able to have ministers come in and share something positive was effecting everyone,” says Jones. “I just know they needed something. They needed more.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses pivoted their in-person ministry and activities around the country to virtual meetings and preaching through letters, telephone calls, and videoconferencing. This change also included their work inside prisons.
“Nothing can stop God’s love from reaching people, no matter where they are,” says prison ministry volunteer Donny Ruffin, who has been visiting county jails in South Mississippi for the last 25 years. When the pandemic kept him from making in person visits, he started focusing on letters and telephone calls to inmates. “Jehovah never gives up on anyone, even when others have.”
Jeff Zack from Batesville, Mississippi, has regular bible discussions by mail with a prison in-mate at Parchman. “I will send him questions, scriptures, and get his personal thoughts on it. We will just go back and forth,” he says. “I don’t want to lose these guys. They deserve the bible’s hope as much as anybody.”
“Life is sacred. Life is valuable,” said Hough-ton. “Everyone deserves the chance to learn Bible truths. Some people might say, ‘They’re just prisoners.’ But that’s not how God views them and that’s not how we view them. We love these people.”