DALLAS—Texas Baptist Men—working with a North Texas radio station, LifeWay Christian Stores and First Baptist Church in Dallas—provided more than 90 cases of Bibles and Christian books to Texas prisons this year, and organizers of the effort hope to do more in 2017.
“This is a ministry that has eternal value,” said Don Gibson, retired executive director of Texas Baptist Men and a restorative justice ministry volunteer.
Chaplains in Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional units distribute Bibles to inmates and make Christian books available to them through the prison libraries, Gibson explained.
David Umfreville, founding director of Prison to Praise International, began collecting Bibles and Christian literature for prisoners more than 35 years ago, when he led prison and jail ministries of First Baptist Church in Dallas.
When a chaplain requested 5,000 Christian books for the inmate library at the Beto Unit in Tennessee Colony, Umfreville contacted the general manager at KCBI-FM. The Christian radio station promoted the book drive and continued to emphasize it in the years that followed, collecting more than 6.5 million books in three-and-a-half decades.
Since 2013, the TBM Dixon Missions Equipping Center in east Dallas has been a collection site for the drive, held each October, and TBM volunteers have helped sort and package the books for delivery to prisons.
“LifeWay has been a great contributor to the Christian book and Bible drive,” Gibson said. This year, eight stores in North Texas and Tyler participated. They not only collected books from customers, but also gave away cases of discontinued titles or slightly worn Bibles.
Next year, TBM not only will collect Bibles and Christian literature as part of the October book drive, but also in conjunction with a March 11 Restorative Justice Ministry conference at the Dixon Center, which coincides with Gibson’s 80th birthday.
Congregations that discontinue their church libraries or pastors who retire and want to downsize their personal collection of books should consider donating to the prisons, Gibson suggested.
Biblical commentaries and seminary-level theology books go to the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, where Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary operates an extension center, he explained.
Chaplains also need undated Bible study books, Gibson noted. BaptistWay Press and the Baptist General Convention of Texas donated a sizeable number of books in recent months, but chaplains could use more, he said.
Chaplains also have requested children’s books for the family visitation rooms in prison facilities, he added.
“We also would like to collect enough Bibles and Christian books to meet the needs of the Hospitality House in Huntsville and other facilities around the state,” Gibson said.
In addition to serving inmates and their families, TBM also distributed about 3,000 Bibles to correctional officers last year during national Correctional Officers Appreciation Week, he noted.
“When you add up the officers and their families, along with the inmates and their families, you’re looking at a 4 million to 4.5 million people group here in Texas,” Gibson said. “That’s an incredible mission field right here.”