IFI program expands
into six states
By Allen Palmeri
January 24, 2006
JEFFERSON CITY – The launch of InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) through the Missouri state prison system marks the sixth state where the affiliate of Prison Fellowship, the ministry founded by Southern Baptist lay leader Charles Colson, will be authorized to work with inmates. States where the program is active are Texas, Iowa, Minnesota and Kansas, with a fifth program starting in Arkansas in March.
“We as Christians share the view that the only true transformation is a spiritual one,” said Norm Cox, a vice president with Prison Fellowship who is assigned to be the national director of IFI. “That’s the only way to truly make you crime-free. However, we’re operating in a public-sector environment, and in doing so we must make sure that all persons come to the program voluntarily. We also agree it’s not necessary to be a Christian to enter the program, to participate in the program or to graduate from the program.”
Prison Fellowship officials are in the process of raising the funds for the first year of the program in Missouri. Thus far, a little more than $300,000 has been raised, according to Donald McGlaughlin, Prison Fellowship Great Lakes regional director for ministry relations.
“This is an excellent opportunity for the lives of men and women to be changed,” said Janice Webb, Missouri field director for Prison Fellowship.
The Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), while not a direct partner with Prison Fellowship, is in favor of what IFI is trying to accomplish, according to MBC Men’s Ministry Specialist Danny Decker, who oversees the MBC prison ministry work.
“We support Prison Fellowship in what they do, and many Southern Baptists are actively engaged in Prison Fellowship ministry,” Decker said. “We’re also doing a work with Evangelism Explosion (EE) and we’ve got several good starts with EE. One of our better works with EE right now is Bonne Terre. We need some churches right now to step up to the plate and get involved in these ministries.”
Mike Murphy, former superintendent at Algoa Correctional Center who was instrumental in helping to bring IFI to Missouri, said there is a holistic trend in Corrections now that seeks to meet physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs of inmates. IFI is a good way to touch on the spiritual side, Murphy said.
“They do recruit volunteers of the faith community to be willing to mentor and accept into their fellowship those inmates who have completed the program,” Murphy said. “Therefore, they offer something that the government really can’t provide—agents in every community willing to be a support for those inmates who are returning to the community. We (the government) don’t have those resources.”