Lighthouse Church: A Place of Belonging for Inmates

Northern Lighthouse Church did not set out to start a prison ministry. It happened when Sam and Karen Keyzer moved their family to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1997 to plant a new church. With seventeen years pastoral experience in the Christian Reformed Church, Sam had been trained in church planting and understood its methods. Yet despite this, the day the church launched proved to be hugely disappointing. Sam had followed a blueprint successful in other locations of starting a leadership team, promoting the idea in the local paper, and sending out fliers in the mail. Disappointingly, on the day of the launch only five persons showed up. From that point, however, the church began to grow, only not in a direction Sam had planned for or anticipated.

Here’s what happened: One of the initial group of five, Lee McCain, asked the pastor whether he could invite a friend who happened to be enrolled in work release program. Work release programs typically allow an inmate to continue in his or her current employment during the day as long as they report back to the prison at the end of the shift. The pastor agreed to this unusual request, so McCain signed out his friend for church and returned him after the service. From there the program began to mushroom as more and more inmates sought to join Lee’s friend in attending church. You could call Northern Lighthouse “the church of a friend of Lee’s friend and a whole lot of other work-release inmate friends.”

Sam had not intended to develop a ministry to inmates, but responded to these inmates’ stories by creating programs to address their needs. One program, Charity Autos, brings in volunteers every Saturday on release from the correctional center to perform minor car repairs for older or lower income residents who cannot afford to pay. Their motto: “Come Stressed and Leave Blessed!’ Another ministry called the Re-Integration Program (RIP) offers training in life and relational skill using faith-based twelve-step teaching. More recently nthe church purchased a house in Lincoln to utilize as transitional housing for men on parole from prison.

One testimony to Northern Lighthouse’s effectiveness is that after release from prison, it’s not unusual for an inmate to choose to stay in Lincoln in order to keep attending the church. Eventually some of these former inmates become church leaders as a way to give back to others what they received.

According to their Facebook page, “Our gatherings are neither flashy nor boring; we simply seek to fulfill our vision. That vision is: being a place where everyone is accepted for who they are regardless of their past, and where everyone finds direction for their lives from the Gospel.”

Source: “Welcoming the Prisoner,” at “Radical Hospitality For The Rest of Us.”

Photo: Castlelass, Morguefile license.

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