As a former inmate, Lemuel Vega acknowledges that he, too, was a recipient of the gospel brought by volunteers who wanted to bring good news to the hopeless.
He was 18 years old in an Indiana jail, facing up to two decades behind bars when a half-dozen volunteers visited the jail one day to sing hymns to the inmates. It was then when the germ of an idea stuck in the back of Vega’s mind. When he was freed and became clean and right with his Savior, the ministry that would become Christmas Behind Bars was born. Now, 16 years later, he seeks to do the same with God’s help.
Year-round, Christmas Behind Bars makes gift packages for every single prisoner in each prison it visits. These packages contain donated Bibles, devotionals, literature, and other gifts and letters for inmates.
“We only have one life to live, one candle to burn,” says Vega. “For us at Christmas Behind Bars, it’s a beautiful opportunity to share that light in these dark places. These men and women are seeking hope and change, and Christ calls us to help them as He helps us.”
What started with less than 350 gift bags has now blossomed into a ministry that distributes between 60,000–70,000 gift bags to inmates each year, making it one of the largest Adventist prison ministries in North America today.
Lemuel has partnered with Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN) to produce a program called Unshackled Purpose, which premieres this October. “God uses Lemuel in amazing ways,” says Jill Morikone, 3ABN general manager, “and we are privileged to partner with him in helping to take the gospel to those who need it most!”
The network has its own thriving ministry to prisoners. Before COVID, their team mailed out over 1,000 study Bibles per month, along with literature and answers to the inmates' questions. Today, that number has dropped slightly to 650 Bibles per month. Morikone says, “It is thrilling to read the prisoners’ letters and see the revival and conversions that are taking place as a result of this ministry.”