Giving back takes many forms, and for one Palm Beach Gardens citizen, it involves writing letters of encouragement to prisoners and reviewing their Bible lessons. Kay Thomas, a resident of La Posada, a premier continuing care retirement community, has devoted time to the Crossroads Prison Ministry cause for the past 15 years. She began participating in the program with her late husband and has been doing it ever since. Crossroads mentors write to prisoners, review their completed Bible studies and answer their questions. They share stories from their own lives and help their students grow in their faith.
“I have written 452 letters to tier one students and an uncounted number of letters to tier two students since I began volunteering with the program,” said Thomas. “There are three tiers of students, and I work mostly with tier-two students and fill in for tier ones when they need me. In tier one, you get a new student each time. In tier two, you work with the same individual for two to four years. How it works is I receive a completed lesson from the prisoner, I review the Bible study and provide feedback by making corrections in the booklet, then I write a letter of encouragement acknowledging their prayer requests and congratulating them on the completion of the study. It is enlightening when you read who their prayer requests are for. If they mention children or other family members, I bring them up in my letters. For example, if they request prayers for their son, I may say ‘I pray your son will find stability.’ I also let them know that I am praying for them to have peace and guidance as they seek to grow their faith in the presence of the Lord.”
The lesson plans and letters are all mailed to Crossroads, which then mails them to the recipients to maintain anonymity. In the letters, mentors are not allowed to share last names, addresses or even names of local ministers or churches. The mentors may not share pictures, but the prisoners can if they so choose. Mentors are advised to not ask prisoners the reason why they are in prison.
“I’ve had some very interesting prisoners assigned to me over the years – some are very smart, some are super eager, and some I have to prod along because they have long gaps between their lessons,” said Kay. “My goal is to help them study the Bible, find the Lord in their life and grow in their faith. I think it is important to give back, share faith and inspire hope. I cannot get out to do mission work, and I feel like this is a special interest God has given me that I can do from my home. The lessons are enriching for me, and I plan to continue to volunteer for many more years. In addition to the lessons and encouraging letters, we send in cards for birthdays and Christmas, and for some, this is the only mail they receive. I had one prisoner in Texas who was outstanding, and he did beautiful woodwork. After working together for some time, he carved me a beautiful piece – the name of Jesus in the shape of a cross. He shipped it to Crossroads, and they so kindly shipped it to me. It was a meaningful gesture, and I was touched by his gift.”
The mission of Crossroads Prison Ministry is to connect prisoners with mentors in Christ-centered relationships so that lives, prisons and churches are restored through the Gospel. Through the mentorship program, students can take over 100 guided Bible-study lessons free of charge.
“The work is challenging because you want to do your best, be honest and true and not give false information. However, it is also very rewarding because you feel you are making a difference in someone else’s life. The program is such a unique concept, and I am glad a minister thought to start it so many years ago.”
More than 30 years ago, Tom de Vries started Crossroad Bible Institute (now Crossroads Prison Ministries) along with his family members and his circle of friends at church. As he ministered to the men behind prison bars, he began to meet with the same prisoners every week with the goal of building a long-term mentoring relationship with them. However, prisoners are transferred frequently, and he would often come back only to find they were gone. Eventually, de Vries and his brother decided to create Bible studies that could be used for discipleship through the mail. They built a team of volunteers to review prisoners’ completed Bible lessons and write them encouraging letters. Crossroads program can follow prisoners no matter how many times they are transferred.
“We admire Kay’s hard work and dedication to serving prisoners for so many years,” said Brad Cadiere, executive director of La Posada. “This is such a unique way to give back, and how amazing it is to know she is touching lives all over the world. We are fortunate to have so many altruistic residents just like Kay living at La Posada. They are all an inspiration to us.”