Life is full of countdowns: to a rocket launch, summer break, a due date....
For inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center in Mississippi, there is one countdown – a not-so-common one for most people – that dominates their consciousness.
"These guys are always looking for ways to count the days till they get out," said Dennis Marks, chaplain at the detention center. "They mark off days on the calendar, keep track on paper, whatever it takes to note the time passing."
Marks was thrilled to learn recently that the Meridian, Miss., LifeWay Christian Store was inviting customers to spend a few extra dollars and purchase Bibles to donate to the jail’s ministry team.
He was overjoyed when he heard those Bibles were "Everyday with Jesus" Bibles.
The "Everyday with Jesus" Bible includes a reading plan with daily passages from Psalms, Proverbs, the Old Testament and the New Testament in addition to devotional thoughts. Sticking to the plan, readers experience the entire Bible in one year.
"Count your time by reading the Bible and doing your Scripture points every day," Marks tells the inmates.
"We try to target our literature so that [inmates] are using it in a better way," he added. "We want to encourage their interest so by their own initiative they are asking for it."
Meridian LifeWay Christian Store Manager Chris Thomas explained that the store facilitates local service projects, such as this Bible donation or gifts of plush toys to a nearby children’s hospital, several times throughout the year.
"Employees have confidence in knowing the work they do is making an impact on the Kingdom of God," Thomas said. "I see it as an opportunity for our store to go above and beyond what we were previously doing and really impact the community."
In late February, Thomas and his assistant manager delivered 155 Bibles to the detention center, all purchased by members of the Meridian community.
"It’s a pleasure to get the Bible," said Randall Sanders, an inmate who received a Bible the day they were delivered. "I’m going to use it all the time. God is so good."
Sanders said many of his fellow inmates can’t afford to purchase their own Bibles. He appreciates the way LifeWay and the community are showing support for the inmates and the ministry to them at Lauderdale County Detention Center.
Marks pointed out that it is significant to the inmates that members of the local community chose to provide the Bibles rather than a ministry or business simply making the donation. "The way it was done was a neat way of doing it," he said. "We depend on the network of God’s people to do our ministry, and LifeWay plugged into that. It’s a tremendous testimony."
The detention center generally houses about 250 inmates, and Marks wants to be able to provide a Bible for every inmate who requests one. He said a Bible is one of the "tools [inmates] need to make a change."
"A transformed heart is the only thing that’s going to break the cycle of crime," Marks said. "I’m looking forward to the time when I can go in there and say, ‘LifeWay and the community gave this to you.’
"The Word of God really does change people’s lives."