At Chains of Grace (see www.chainsofgrace.org) we practice a triune ministry:
- Prevention-During this phase of the work we hope to educate persons about the possible consequences of criminal actions. This is the most difficult part of our work to quantify.
- Therapy-Wherein we try to comfort and encourage incarcerated persons by connection to family and friends on the outside. This is perhaps the most perilous part of the work for our outreach teams.
- Reentry-We provide reentry supervision and services for men and women coming out of incarceration. This is the easiest portion of our work to quantify, perhaps the least perilous for our workers (frankly, we have never had a violent incident, though we receive many threats) and the one area where God’s work with persons is most readily visible (at least to me).
You can see the progression of the work. As we go through our steps, we see more clearly the need for workers (and residents) to display the unconditional love of God. Let me offer this explanation of agape (divine and unconditional) love.
The nature of God, as evidenced in Scripture, appears to be:
- Love-The only one sentence description of God in the Bible is this; God is love.
- Service-The clearest description of the Christ in Scripture is Mark 10:45, wherein Christ is explained by His work, to wit, “Even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a redeeming price for many.”
- Other Centeredness-The Servant God chooses to center Godself in others, rather than remain in cloudy obscurity.
- Utter Self-Giving-God holds back nothing of Godself from us
The first element, love, is a statement of God’s nature in naming (noun) form. Each element thereafter is a description of God’s nature in action. God serves, God centers Godself in other (and so teaches us to do so) and God gives of Godself. We believe we ought to love even the least person, but love is not a verb. Service is an act, other-centeredness is an act, self-sacrifice is an act.
If love is not an act, what is it? Love is a condition out of which one can offer service, identification and sacrifice as visible displays of affection and acceptance. That is, we offer love (or do not) because it is in our nature to offer love, which I describe as affection and acceptance requiring mercy, forgiveness and compassion.
That is, divine love comes to us because unconditional love is the nature of God.
If we are to minister effectively to the criminal (potential, actual or recovering) unconditional love is required.