Followers of Christ – Sharing the Good News in Nebraska’s Correctional Facilities
October 15, 2021
Followers of Christ is the prison ministry of your Nebraska Synod of the ELCA. It is the hands, feet, voice, and heart of Jesus making the presence and love of God known in Nebraska Department of Correctional Services facilities. Love changes even a stony heart, freeing people to live the life God made them for.
The Beginning of Followers of Christ
In 1997 Nebraska Synod Bishop Richard Jessen attended a Bishop’s meeting in South Dakota. The agenda included a visit to St. Dysmas, the prison congregation at the South Dakota State Penitentiary. Bishop Jessen came back to the Nebraska Synod Council with the recommendation to have a similar ministry in Nebraska. The Synod Council issued a call to Pastor Bud Christenson. After Department of Corrections academy training, he started working at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.
At first Pastor Bud was limited to working in the chapel; he invited Lutheran men to come get acquainted with him. Soon he got permission to begin worship services on Saturday evenings. Visitors from outside congregations were allowed to come to worship, and that stimulated interest among the prisoners. The worshiping body grew rapidly. The prisoners chose the name, Followers of Christ, and operated as a congregation even though called a “class.” After each Saturday worship service, they held a Bible study, and one on one counseling also became a part of the prison pastor’s ministry.
In addition to working in the prison, Pastor Bud visited congregations throughout the state to solicit support. Donations and visitors to worship were of great value to the ministry. After Pastor Bud, William Barth was the second pastor of Followers of Christ, followed by Pastor Bob Bryan. In 2019, Followers of Christ called Rob Corum as the current prison pastor.
Followers of Christ Today
Today, Followers of Christ (FoC) leads worship as part of a monthly rotation of Protestant ministries for 3 populations between the Nebraska State Penitentiary (NSP) and the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women (NCCW), as well as Bible Studies and small groups. FoC is also a connecting point to other programs such as Kairos, which brings the love of Jesus to people who would not normally attend worship, Crossroads Connection at Underwood Hills Presbyterian Church for people at Community Corrections in Omaha, the FEAST Ministry at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church for people at Community Corrections in Lincoln, and Bridges to Hope, which serves and encourages people transitioning back into the community after incarceration by providing clothing, kitchen/household goods, furniture, and hygiene products at no cost. These connections help inmates maintain the unity and support of the Body of Christ during incarceration and through transitions out of it, to stay out.
Who God really is and what God really does is revealed in who Jesus is and what Jesus does. Jesus reveals God to be love for all people, even people the world does not love, shining light in dark places. This Good News inspires faith, which is hope, humility, trust, and courage, freeingpeople to live a new life of love and peace, the life God made us for in the first place, because we are no longer trapped by fear, thinking we have to take care of ourselves (over against our neighbors) because no one else is going to.
Followers of Christ is dedicated to the idea that Jesus asks 2 things of us all: love one another, and make disciples, teaching them everything Jesus taught us (which is to love). Love is how people know that we are his disciples, and love changes a stony heart. The Body of Christ is the community of Jesus’ disciples, learning who Jesus really is, nurturing a relationship with Jesus in community, and learning to say/do/be what Jesus says/does/is wherever they are – including prison!
So the Body of Christ is still walking & talking & loving people in this world, even people the world says are unlovable, in places where love can seem like a stranger.
We are all on a journey to become who God made and redeemed us to be. FoC not only provides a means of showing God’s love to people in prisons, but also of connecting people inside the walls with people outside the walls on this same journey. Visiting the prisoner has an impact on volunteers, as participants go from being “criminals,” to being part of a shared humanity that Jesus loves.
Jesus is God meeting us where we are, as one of us, experiencing our brokenness with us, but not leaving us there. Followers of Christ (both inmates and volunteers) learn to be the hands and feet and voice and heart of Jesus, still revealing God, still loving people where they are, speaking light into darkness and life into death. This gives life in a broken world meaning and purpose, not just “even” in dark, lonely, and dangerous places, but especially there.
Rev. Rob Corum serves as the pastor for Followers of Christ Prison Ministry of the Nebraska Synod. ELCA. Pastor Rob takes volunteers to experience and be the Body of Christ in worship at NSP and NCCW. We invite all disciples of Jesus to be part of the Body of Christ visiting the prisoner, if not as the feet & voice entering the prison, then as the hands & lungs, supporting the ministry. Pastor Rob is also available to speak to church, para-church, & civic groups about opportunities to hear & follow Gods call, and the blessing of being and doing what we were made to be and do. Please contact Pastor Rob at email@example.com.