In early and post-Nicene Christian theology, hospitality was one of the most important graces a Christian could demonstrate to another person. This expression of love, care, and acceptance was so great that it was believed to have been related to a person’s salvation. To show hospitality was to participate in the new life of Christ, while to not give one such was tantamount to the Christian risking being accepted and, therefore, shown hospitality by God in eternity. Key to the expression of such in Christian theology was Matthew 25:35–43. It was believed that to show hospitality to the categories of people enumerated by Christ here was to show hospitality to Christ himself. Therefore, if we receive a fellow image-bearer, we receive Christ. If we turn them away, we are as good as turning away Jesus.
A dear friend of mine with whom I worked through my doctorate program has undertaken this very thing in a manner. Dr. Jeff Kreh established Likewise College which serves inmates by equipping them with a liberal arts education so that upon their release they can assimilate back into society as productive citizens. I’d urge you to peruse their website and possibly even to donate to this cause. However, I want to share with you three testimonies that Jeff gave me.
Billy is serving a life sentence for murder. He knows he will spend the rest of his life in prison, so it’s his mission field. I baptized Billy nearly a decade ago, and he’s one of the main reasons Likewise College began. Billy is an emerging historian and biblical scholar. He dreams of getting his Associate degree and then pressing on into our Bachelor and Master’s’ degrees when they’re available. He wants to teach us inside the prison—to be indigenous faculty. Our conversations usually explore the connections between pre-Christian Greco-Roman philosophers and historians and New Testament authors. He’s recognizing the value of knowing the original New Testament audience’s culture when it comes to interpreting what the text meant—so that he can better interpret what it means. He already has and will continue to grow of greater and greater influence in the prison system. Billy mentors others every day of the week, not just on Sunday evenings and Tuesday mornings.
Jeffery came out to watch the documentary, “Zero Percent,” in October 2015 and caught a vision for himself. Plutarch would call Jeffery “shy or bashful” to say the least. For the first month of conversational learning, Jeffery mostly listened. On the rare occasion that he made a comment, he couldn’t make eye-contact. Slow, halting speech and painfully brief eye-contact started happening after that first semester. The slow, steady exposure to Luke, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas and others influenced Jeffery profoundly. I first noticed a significant change a year later during our conversation over Aristotle’s Politics as part of a four credit hour government course. I read someone’s question aloud and waited for the students to start pitching in. Every eye looked just past me to the seat on my left. I turned to see Jeffery, handheld head-high, a slight smile on his face, and unflinching eye-contact. After I nodded, he rebuked Aristotle’s notion of “once a slave, always a slave” and cited a couple paragraphs in the reading. Someone challenged his stance, to which Jeffery replied, “sure, but on the next page, Aristotle says . . .” He didn’t wilt. He didn’t retreat. He offered evidence and looked us in the eye like a man does. I’ve seen several others discover similar moral courage that is nothing short of inspiring.
Lawrence represents 30% of our student population: a devout Muslim. First, Lawrence never came to the regular Sunday evening communion services that I offer in prison. He had reservations about coming out to a Christian college program. Still, he believed a college education would help him get out and get a job. It might even help him help his kids. So, Lawrence started coming out on Tuesday mornings at 7:00 for a five-hour block of weekly studies in his Humanities and Entrepreneurship degree programs. I pick on Lawrence whenever we have a group of new students coming in for training. “Lawrence,” I say, “you and I have different religious beliefs, right?” He’ll smile and nod. “Have you ever felt like I won’t let you graduate unless you believe the same way I do?” He just shakes his head and says, “no sir. Not at all.” However, Lawrence knows that it’s Christians who make his education possible. This knowledge and side conversations with me about a wide variety of issues influenced Lawrence—softening his attitude toward Christians. Just last week, Lawrence asked me, “Is what you do on Sunday evenings like what we do here on Tuesday mornings?” I told him that it’s quite similar. Then, one of the most devout Muslims in the state prison system asked with the sincerity of a little child, “do you think it’d be okay for me to come out on a Sunday evening and visit your Church service?” Yep. We respect the role of the College as a bridge to the work of the Church. The grace of a college education is calling out a life-changing—and possibly eternity changing— a sense of gratitude in even our most unlikely of students.
Our brother is using education in the prison system in Arkansas as his mission field. He has made an effect in the lives of those with whom he works. Those of you with prison ministry experience know that it can be a jaded ministry, but Jeff has taken it upon himself with the support of his board to do this very thing. I encourage you to see what he’s doing for the kingdom of God and see how you might bless him either through prayer or giving. Perhaps just reaching out to learn more about it would be an encouragement to him and those who work alongside him.