Life's Key Prison Ministries
He who has the Son has life. I John 5:12
He who has the Son has life. I John 5:12
A Message From the Founder of Life's Key
January 1, 1974 at 34 years of age I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. A brand new creation, a new heart, new desires, and new goals. My wife, Mary Ann, accepted the Lord two and a half years prior. That summer we were privileged to attend a Bible Conference at Greenwood Hills in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania. At the conference, I met Chaplain Phil Wagner who shared his ministry of reaching inmates through use of Bible courses in the state of Illinois.
Upon returning home, my attempt to reach into a state maximum security prison was futile. Mr. David Good, an Elder in our home Assembly, had been challenged at the same conference to disciple new believers “so we do not lose them”. He accepted the challenge and as a result, David and I, and another new believer met for three years to study the Word of God. My desire to reach inmates with the Gospel never diminished, and my wife’s words of encouragement to me were, “John, I will be with you in whatever you want to do.” We have been a team in this work since then.
In May of 1977 I met with Dr. David Johnson, the Chaplain at the local penitentiary in Pittsburgh, PA, along with Chaplain Wagner. Dr. Johnson permitted me to enter the facility on June 10, 1977 to present the use of the Bible Correspondence Courses. I met with 16 inmates the first evening and was delighted to see their eagerness to study the Scriptures.
Meeting weekly for a Bible study and a growing interest in the courses were very encouraging. Inmates in our curriculum began to be transferred to other facilities across the state taking their courses with them. They then introduced the courses to the various Chaplains, who in turn requested I visit their prisons and promote the courses. By the grace of God, this ministry was growing by leaps and bounds.
As the work grew, we were compelled to enter the ministry on a full time basis, and in 1979 St. Clair Bible Chapel commended us to the work with an additional commendation from Bethel Bible Church in 1992. Due to the growth in Western Pennsylvania, we established a mail-in system in order for students to mail their exams to us for processing, and we would send their new courses in the US mail. The organization of Life’s Key as a religious not-for-profit 501 c 3 organization was established in 1979 as well. Our Board of Directors continues to give counsel and direction as we pursue the task at hand, and they are a great asset to the ministry.
Working together with Emmaus Correspondence School (ECS), we began to reach other areas. We agreed to establish the ministry in Ohio in 1980, Michigan in 1983, Indiana in 1984 (then turning that work over to the present coordinator in 1988), the balance of Pennsylvania and Delaware in 1991, Eastern Kentucky and New York in 1994, and Virginia and West Virginia in 1999, thus giving us a total of eight states. We never envisioned that this work would grow to this extent, but God had another plan and we simply went through the doors that He opened.
We began processing the courses in our basement in 1977 and then moved the operation to three rented rooms above a barbershop for several years until we absolutely needed more office space. The Lord provided a four-room building that had been used as a mini-school for a local Catholic school. We were able to purchase our present facility debt free in 1987. What a tremendous provision from the Lord!
1990 proved to be our birthday card year, that is, we began to send a birthday card greeting to every current or former student enrolled in our curriculum. This has been a vital connection between our student body and the ministry.
My wife and I could not possibly handle the workload without the faithful dedication of so many volunteers. Presently, we have 75 men and women who give hours of joyful volunteer service for the Lord. Many come to our office while others work in their homes. God has been pleased to raise up quality people who love Him and desire to serve Him in this ministry. What a blessing and encouragement they are to Mary Ann and me. We presently distribute over 2500 courses monthly.
From June 1977 through September 2004 we have distributed 548,139 courses with a 69% return of 376,548 completions. Our return rate is very good for several reasons. A structured and attainable curriculum, personal comments on each exam, a quick turnaround of the corrected exams, additional study helps as needed, a personal birthday card greeting to each student and a Bible earned upon the completion of 15 courses. The power behind the workload is the persistent prayers of God’s people for this ministry.
We were blessed to have a weekly Bible study at the Pittsburgh, PA prison for 13 years from 1977 to 1990. In 1990, at the request of the Chaplains Department, I was given the opportunity to obtain a contract Chaplain’s position at the facility. The following 13 years, 24 hours a week, I functioned as a Chaplain until I was diagnosed with a medical situation that forced me to resign. I liken my time frames to Moses’ 40-year increments, only mine is 13 years. My tenure at the prison has proven to be very beneficial in the overall ministry of Life’s Key. I am indebted to my wife who has labored vigorously in the ministry not only while I worked at the prison, but also continues with me each day.
The Lord has been very gracious to us personally and to this ministry as well. Our initial desire was to reach into one institution with the use of the Bible courses, and it is evident that the Lord had other plans. We cannot boast in what we have done. We can only boast in what God is doing in our midst and are simply thankful to have a small part in His blessing.
There are over forty like-minded offices across North America distributing Bible courses into jails and prisons. Many opportunities for volunteer services exist within these offices. Please pray for these ministries, and perhaps the Lord would direct you to be a part of this vital work for God.
Under His Wings,