By Reuben Archer Torrey
MEETINGS IN JAILS, HOSPITALS, POORHOUSES, ETC.
Jails, hospitals, poorhouses and other public institutions offer a very important and much-neglected field of operations for the devoted soul winner.
I. IMPORTANCE AND ADVANTAGES.
1. MANY OF THE INMATES OF THESE INSTITUTIONS MUST BE REACHED WHILE THERE, OR NOT AT ALL. Many of them in fact spend pretty much all of their lives there, and many others still will die there.
2. THE INMATES ARE OFTENTIMES IN A FAVORABLE MOOD FOR THE RECEPTION OF THE GOSPEL. Things have gone against them. Life looks hopeless. The Gospel, which is full of hope, just appeals to their need. Take for example the men in jail. They have found out by bitter experience that "the way of the transgressor is hard"; they are humbled and sobered. They are very likely to be in a thoughtful mood; they have much time for thought, little opportunity in fact for anything else; furthermore the whisky is out of them, and with many of them the only time the whisky is out of them is when they are in jail or prison. There could not be a more favorable opportunity for preaching the Gospel. I have known many men who thanked God that they were ever sent to jail, for there they heard the Gospel, some of them for the first time, and others of them in a different mood from that in which they had ever heard it before.
3. THE CONVERTS CAN BE FOLLOWED UP. A prisoner is reached with the Gospel one Sunday in jail, he is likely to be there the next Sunday as well, and perhaps for many Sundays to come, and there is an opportunity to get him thoroughly established before he is out in the world again. The same is true of an inmate of a hospital; he is reached one day, and is likely to be there where he can be dealt with for many days to come.
4. THE INMATES HAVE TO ATTEND. In some instances attendance is compulsory. When one is confined to a sick bed in the ward of a hospital where a religious service is being held, they are obliged to hear the Gospel preached and sung. Further than this, where the inmates of such institutions are not compelled to attend, there is so little to do that they are willing to go to anything for a novelty.
5. THE RESULTS OF SUCH SERVICES ARE VERY LARGE. It has oftentimes been our privilege in the Cook County Jail to preach to fifty or more persons there under charge of murder, besides great numbers of others. Very many of the most desperate and hardened characters have been converted in jail services. There is scarcely any other work that yields so important and so good results as jail work. Some of the leading ministers and other Christian workers of this country were converted while incarcerated. One of the leading ministers of one of our evangelical denominations, a man whose name is known not only in this country but in Europe, a man who has remarkable power of preaching the Word of God, was first reached while in jail. At that time he was a brilliant but drunken lawyer. He was converted in jail, and has been for many years an honored preacher of the Gospel. In one of our cities a reckless young man was incarcerated under charge of arson. He had burned the property of his own father. His father was himself a Godless man. While in jail this young man was brought to Christ, and has been for years a most devoted Christian at the head of a very successful mission work. Jerry McAuley, perhaps the leader in rescue mission work in this country, was converted while in Sing Sing prison. Christian workers should see to it that every jail, poorhouse, and similar institution in the land has a regular evangelistic service. The formal services held under the city or state in such institutions frequently are purely formal, and of no real value. As a rule the best work is that which is done by volunteers. Service should also be held in every hospital in the land where it is possible to get an entrance.
II. HOW TO CONDUCT.
1. FIRST OF ALL, YOU MUST GET PERMISSION. The way to get permission is to ask for it. The request should not be made in the way of a demand, it should be made with great tact and courtesy. If it is possible to get influence back of your request, get it.
2. KEEP THE GOOD WILL OF THE ATTENDANTS. Here is a place where many zealous but unwise workers make a mistake; they unnecessarily antagonize jailers or keepers or nurses or other attendants. This is the height of folly. It does not cost much to keep the good will of people, and in a case like this it is of inestimable value.
3. BE SURE TO VIOLATE NONE OF THE RULES OF THE INSTITUTION. Be careful at the outset to find what the rules of the institution are, and then observe them to the very letter. It makes no difference whether you think the rules of the institution are wise or not, keep them anyhow. It is not your business to make the rules, but to observe them.
4. ATTEND STRICTLY TO YOUR OWN BUSINESS. Don't try to run the whole jail or hospital. Some men when they go to preach in an institution seem to be seized with the idea that they own the whole institution. I have known workers to go to work among the inmates of a hospital, and then try to get them to give up the use of medicine and accept divine healing, or sometimes try to get them to go to some other hospital they thought was better. In such a case, the authorities are of course warranted in turning the workers into the street.
5. GO REGULARLY. Regular services, week after week, month after month, year after year, accomplish far more than spasmodic efforts. One great trouble in all this kind of work is that there are so many people who get enthusiastic for some weeks, and then their enthusiasm cools. When institutions have a number of experiences with this kind of work, they become unwilling to permit a new band of workers to take up again a work that has so often failed in the past.
6. HAVE GOOD MUSIC, AND PLENTY OF IT. These people get very little music, and they enjoy it. Frequently they enjoy the music more than they do the preaching, and it is easier to reach many of them by a solo sung in the power of the Spirit than it is by a sermon. Adapt your music to the circumstances; for example, in a hospital the music should not be loud or exciting; it should be bright and comforting. A doleful tune in a hospital may hasten the death of some of the patients, but a bright, cheerful, Gospel tune is likely to save the lives of some of the patients. The music that is adapted to a hospital is frequently not adapted to a jail, and vice versa.
7. PREACH THE WORD. Stick close to the Bible. Be simple, plain, vivacious, right to the point.
8. BE WISE IN YOUR PRAYER. An indiscreet prayer in a hospital may do much harm, so may an indiscreet prayer in a jail or workhouse.
9. IN A JAIL BE CAREFUL TO AVOID ALL AIR OF SUPERIORITY. Many an inexperienced man begins to talk to the inmates in jail, as if he were an angel and they were demons. Such a man will get no hearing. Let the prisoners feel that you realize that you are their brother. Do not assume a patronizing air, avoid all unnecessary sentimentality and gush.
10. MAKE USE OF TESTIMONY. Jerry McAuley was converted through the testimony of Orville Gardner. He had known Orville Gardner in the old days as a desperate character in New York, going by the nickname of "Awful Gardner." When he went to Sing Sing prison and saw Orville Gardner in the pulpit, he could hardly believe his own eyes; but when Orville Gardner rose and gave his testimony, it went home to Jerry McAuley's heart, and thoroughly roused him to a study of the Bible itself, with the result that he was converted in his cell. There are many men in this country today who in olden days have been inmates of jails and prisons -- notorious criminals -- but who are today living consistent Christian lives. The testimony of such a man has great weight with other convicts.
11. DEAL INDIVIDUALLY WITH THE INMATES. The public preaching does much good, but the personal work does more, it brings matters to a personal decision. The great majority of converts in jail work come through individual work. It may be difficult at first to get permission to deal individually with the inmates, but if you are wise, and win the confidence of the authorities, you will get the opportunity in time.
12. MAKE A LARGE USE OF TRACTS AND OTHER GOSPEL LITERATURE. Prisoners have so much time on their hands that they are ready to read anything. Select your literature very wisely. Goody-goody religious literature is not what is needed, but that which shows real ability and strength, and goes right to the heart of things. There is no better literature for use in jails and hospitals than that published by the Colportage Division of the Moody Press. It is possible to get free grants from this society. While their prison fund is usually overdrawn, somehow or other they manage to honor drafts made upon them.
13. PRAY MUCH IN SECRET. Prayer is one of the great secrets of success in all forms of religious enterprise, but this is peculiarly true regarding work in jails, hospitals and similar institutions. If a record could be kept and published regarding God's answers to prayers for work under such circumstances, it would make a most interesting and inspiring book.