Since our earliest days, friends like you have helped Prison Fellowship answer God’s call to restore all those affected by crime and incarceration. With your prayers and support, this ministry has embraced millions of prisoners and their families for more than 45 years in the belief that no life is beyond Jesus’ reach.
After the passing of Chuck Colson in 2012, Prison Fellowship remained committed to its original vision, but it had not yet made the momentous shift from being founder-led to mission-driven. The ministry was at a turning point.
Back then, I was grateful to be part of Prison Fellowship as a donor and volunteer. As the longtime CEO of media companies, I hadn’t yet dreamed that God had much greater involvement in store for me, but the skills God gave me through experiences in the private sector turned out to be the tools the ministry needed at that point in its history. When the Prison Fellowship Board of Directors offered me the position of CEO in 2016, I was overjoyed to accept and see where the Lord would lead us together.
The last several years at Prison Fellowship have been incredible. God has raised up a board and senior leadership team with strategic vision and deep passion for the work ahead of us. We are more than halfway through a 10-year strategic plan to restore thousands of lives in prison, bring fresh hope to families affected by incarceration, and transform the culture and outcomes of prison. Today, Prison Fellowship is a trusted partner to prison leaders nationwide and an innovator in the field of corrections. Chuck’s founding vision, to mobilize the Church to share the love of Jesus behind bars and to raise up leaders from inside prison walls, remains our standard. What the Lord has accomplished, especially through the challenges of recent years, far surpasses any vision I had at the beginning. (To learn more about how God has been at work through our supporters’ generosity, read our FY22 annual report.)
At the beginning, I wasn’t sure how long the Lord intended for my tenure as CEO to last. I had inklings that I was called to help Prison Fellowship turn an important corner, but the board and I had no clear timeline in mind, so we prayed for direction. The Lord has faithfully responded to that prayer, too—and He answered it first in prison.
While visiting the Prison Fellowship Academy at the Carol Vance Unit in Texas, I was approached by Sean, a man dressed in “prison whites.” This believer in Jesus, whose faith had been honed by decades behind bars, asked me if he could a share a message God had placed on his heart for me. I try to exercise discernment when someone claims to have a message from the Lord, but Sean’s demeanor was so uniquely humble and sincere that I felt compelled to take it to heart.
Sean shared that he believed I was laying the groundwork for the next phase of Prison Fellowship’s growth, but that God would use someone else to oversee the future work. I would hand the reins to a leader God would call.
The message lodged in my heart. Over the next months, I tested it, prayed over it, and discussed it with my wife, Martha. I asked the Lord for clarity on whether it came from Him. As I prayed, the sense of confirmation only grew stronger.
In 2021, following the Lord’s leading, I told the Prison Fellowship Board of Directors that I intend to step down in June 2024. We have begun a prayerful, phased, and orderly 20-month transition to new executive leadership.
As the ministry looks toward its 50th anniversary, the Board of Directors is leading the process to name a new CEO who will carry Chuck Colson’s vision into the future. A further announcement will be made when the board has officially named my successor.
Ministry to prisoners and their families remains Prison Fellowship’s top priority. We are focused on mobilizing the Church to restore prisoners and their families, raising up good citizens and future leaders behind bars, and advocating for justice that restores.
I am sharing information about this transition in advance with you, our faithful friend and supporter, because the ministry of Prison Fellowship simply would not be possible without you. Your prayers and your heart of generosity propel us forward along the path the Lord has marked out for us.
As I prepare to pass the baton to a new leader, we plan to continue to serve without breaking stride. So many people are counting on the continued work of restoration you empower with your support. Will you continue to uphold us—especially our board, our leaders, and all those we serve—in frequent prayer as we take these next steps?
For His Kingdom,
JAMES J. ACKERMAN President and Chief Executive Officer
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Prison Fellowship P.O. Box 1550, Merrifield, VA, 22116-1550 US