This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda ODell, creator of "Letters For The Lord" Prison ministry a nation wide outreach to prisoners.
Q: Linda, tells us about yourself .
A: My name is Linda ODell and I am 53 years old. I have been married to my husband, for 30 years. We were unable to have children because I had cancer so it's the 2 of us plus 3 dogs, and 1 cat. My husband had a relative who was wrongfully convicted and served 7 years. During the time we visited her, the Lord put a burden on my heart for all of the rest of the women in prison who never got visitors.
Q: How long have you been doing this ministry?
A: I started writing to prisoners back in the 70's when I was a teen. I just had a passion for the imprisoned. the Lord gave me the name, "Letters For The Lord." This ministry is my own creation. Of course, the Lord created it in me, but I have others who assist me in "adopting" prisoners to mentor by mail. I work the ministry out of my home and use the internet to promote the ministry through my website, facebook, and twitter.
Q: How do you find inmates that want penpals?
A: I get many requests each week from prisoners who want someone to write them. I write to as many as I can and match them to other Christians as the Lord provides volunteers. Its easy because, once you write to an inmate, they tend to share your address with others. And , by word of mouth, the requests just come in. I match the inmates to volunteers who offer to help.
Q: Is there a screening process for volunteers?
A: I usually get the volunteer's testimony or the reason they are drawn to writing prisoners. I ask them what their connection is to prison (i.e. have they served time or do they have a family member in prison). If I feel they want to volunteer for the right reasons, I accept them. I stress "this is a ministry for Christ, not a matchmaking service as many others are. This is a ministry to bring prisoners to Christ and to fellowship and encourage prisoners who already know Christ."
Q: What are your guidelines for writing to prisoners?
A: Use common sense. Write your letters as if you are writing to a friend. Begin by sharing your testimony and faith in Christ. Share life experiences, hobbies, etc. Just be a friend. Keep it simple. Share your life, your thoughts, your faith.
Q: What are some of the things a penpal should not do?
A: Never send money or anything of value, never get romantically involved. Don't make promises you can't keep. Never give out personal information or financial information (SS #, credit card info. etc). Just one caution. If you decide to send a photo (after you are well established with the person) send only a group photo and never one of your minor children). You can use a P.O. Box or your church's address. I have personally used my street address and never had a problem.
Q: What is the hardest part of your ministry?
A: The hardest thing is to find other Christians who desire to mentor prisoners by mail. Prison ministry is the least popular ministry in most churches. Even in my own church, I am our prison ministry. Most people don't think about it until a family member ends up serving time. Second, is funding for postage, tracts and literature that I send out.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your ministry.
A: All of it! The letters bless my heart. To see the prisoners come to Christ and watch them grow. They minister to me far more than I do to them. Christ is our mentor. Many of the women go back into the prisons as volunteers.
Q: Any success stories you'd like to share?
A: One woman, Lara, has been out for several years and is starting Bible College this year. She is so excited and so am I.
Q: How is your ministry funded?
A: My own personal funds as well as the donations of caring individuals. You can donate safely through PayPal. I also accept stamps, Bibles, and good Christian books.
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
A: This is the most rewarding ministry. Christ calls us to visit him in prison. We do not bring Him to the prison when we go inside. He's there waiting for us in the hearts of believing prisoners. We get to join Him in His work.
Thank you, Linda, for sharing your ministry with us. To find out more about Letters For The Lord, check out Linda's website and blog.
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Readers - Please share your prison ministry stories with us!