Prison Ministry at Columbia River State Correctional Institution
When David Pritchard, of the Stone Tower Church in Portland, Ore., and Len Bierlein, of the Hoodview Church also in Portland, drive past an Oregon State prison, they don’t see steel fences with razor wire, or guard towers, or massive doors with multiple layers of security. They see individuals with a desire to learn more about their Lord.
For the last 11 years, Pritchard has spent nearly every Sabbath evening, and Bierlein has spent nearly every Sunday evening within the walls of the Columbia River State Correctional Institution, presenting Christian truths to from four to 20 inmates. Recently, they saw the earthly results of their work, when nine inmates were baptized, publicly proclaiming their love for God and accepting the sacrifice of Jesus for them.
This baptism, conducted by Pritchard, was witnessed by an inmate's wife, the mother of a second inmate, and six other inmates who had been previously baptized. The baptism was conducted in a horse-watering trough mounted on a four-wheel dolly in the prison loading-dock area. Although the environment lacked the dignity of a church sanctuary or the beauty of a baptism in one of Oregon’s beautiful rivers, the personal dedication and commitment of these men made it a beautiful, solemn event.
Paul Scheer, Stone Tower member, played Amazing Grace on his bagpipe as a fitting finale to the occasion. Those in attendance joined in singing this meaningful song.
One of the previously baptized inmates states that he has been incarcerated since 1980. He was raised in an Adventist home in the southeastern United States. He has been very active in giving Bible studies and serving as a resource person for other inmates interested in learning more about God. In one instance, he tells of giving a copy of The Great Controversy to a fellow inmate who read it and wants to get another copy for his mother. Another inmate has read Bill Stringfeller’s book, All in the Mind of the Lord.
The inmate that has served as the resource person says it is easy to think that prisoners are society's throwaways, but there are many prisoners earnestly searching for the meaning that only a belief in and commitment to God can provide. He is to be paroled within the next 30 days and plans on returning to his home state and continuing his active pursuit of those whose lives will be more complete in a fuller knowledge of Jesus.
Pritchard and Bierlein are joined on most evenings by Stone Tower members Anna Anderson and Francis Smith, who have been involved in this ministry for the last four years.
While Pritchard’s and Bierlein’s programming varies, Pritchard has just finished showing Doug Batchelor’s video series entitled, Historicals of Prophecy. It was the call to baptism in this video series that resulted in the decision of these nine men to follow their Lord and be baptized.