We are sometimes asked why we just look after Christian ex-offenders? Surely others are even more in need and why should we attempt any exclusion? I suppose the short answer is that it's what we feel called to do and it was the original vision of Brian Greenaway back in 1983.
However, we do question this calling from time to time and I have no doubt that our project managers, who are really at the cutting edge of deciding who to offer a place, try to be open to the prompting of God for each referral they investigate.
We re-examined the question recently after one of our residents re-offended. We knew he had not yet made a Christian commitment and sadly he went back in prison. We are also questioning the practical validity of this calling when it comes to researching our hostel project for mentally disordered ex-offenders. It can be very difficult to tell the nature of a person's spirituality when they have mental health problems, especially when religious fixation is very common with those who are mentally ill. In all of this questioning, however, we still seem to come round to our first and primary vision which is to look after ex-offenders who are of the Christian family of faith.
It can also be very hard for many people to understand the needs of ex-offenders. This is not surprising, given the ethos of separating offenders from society and the stigma attached to them which discourages open disclosure of their problems. Some people also think that caring for the offender implies not caring about the victim. Of course God cares about both and so do we.
No one would argue that ex-offenders don't have particular needs and Christian ex-offenders have additional needs. Their spiritual and moral awakening is a significant added dimension to be cared for and is the prime motivation for a change of life style. We believe this is best done in an environment where prayer, Bible study, Christian encouragement and companionship are part of the daily culture. Because ex-offenders are particularly vulnerable, this culture ought not to pose a threat, or be threatened by those who have not taken the same steps towards Christian commitment.
Ideally it should be the role of the Church to care for Christian ex-offenders and provide this environment, but many do not feel comfortable stepping from prison straight into such an open society, especially where the majority of Church members come from a very different culture and background. Equally, many Churches do not feel comfortable with someone who rightly or wrongly is perceived as a risk.
Hence 'Stepping Stones' sees itself both as a place of safety for its residents and as a link to Church and society. There are other routes for ex-offenders and many of these routes are provided by Christians for all-comers. Ours, however is to cater for the particular needs of Christian ex-offenders and to do this as a bridge between, and with the help of, the Christian Church.
Perhaps in this respect we are a little like the apostle Paul. In prison he led the lawbreaking slave Onesimus to faith in Jesus, but after befriending him for a little while he returned him with commendation to Philemon and the Church that met at his home.
Date updated : 7th June 1997
Webmaster : David Daniel