When Ray Hall was 14 years old, he did something very significant: he prayed the sinner’s prayer. What followed, however, is a familiar scenario: he wandered away from God.
“I said the words and believed,” Ray recalls, “then I found girls and partying.”
He trusted in Jesus, but he just didn’t walk the walk. “Every time I ran into a ditch, I’d pray until help came, then I’d go back to being crazy.”
Things didn’t change until Ray turned 50. “I found the verse, ‘Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.’ I realized that Jesus was not a genie in a bottle that I could pull the top, get fixed, and then put Him back in the bottle. He wanted to live ‘in me.’ That time, when I said the words, they stuck. I had no desire to go back. A fire was lit that continues to burn.”
In 1994, Ray had another encounter with God. It has to do with providing books for prison inmates. “I had a direct word from God to use books to change lives,” Ray explains. “Books continue to work even after the preacher is gone. A book will help to educate an inmate [and help make him] an effective spokesman. Inmates will listen to another inmate quicker than to an outsider who knows nothing about their condition or situation.
“Most inmates are not evil, they have just been caught up in an evil event that requires severe payment. When those steel doors slam shut, reality hits them hard. Jailhouse religion is a real thing that is stifled without mentoring. With fertilizer, sunshine, and water, it will grow and even blossom. Blossoms have beauty and an odor that do not go unnoticed.”
That’s how the Prison Book Project started. For the first two years, the goal was to put 1,000 books in the local county jail. The Lord blessed abundantly, providing 38,000 books. The ministry soon expanded from the county jail to other jails and prison. Today, Prison Book Project serves over 2,000 facilities in 39 countries. And there are nearly 1,000 facilities on the waiting list. In the last four years alone, they have distributed more than 1.1 million books.
While getting quality Christian books (Christian fiction, biblical reference books, and books on Christian living) to inmates is the goal, the Bible is the key.
“God’s Word is what we are all about,” Ray says. “While other books are important, the Bible is the center of all we do. Christian books are good as tools to lead folks into more serious study. The Bible is always the base to build on.
“I believe that every prison and jail in America needs to be flooded with the Word!”
While he and the rest of the team at Prison Book Project don’t always see the results of their ministry, they do receive reports of how inmates have had their lives transformed by God’s Word.
“We have been at this for 23 years and there are thousands of stories. We have four books in our current inventory that were written by ex-inmates.
“Katie Scheller’s ‘Call Me Vivian,’ for instance, tells of how she wrote to Prison Book Project asking for a Bible. She received a beautiful red and white leather Bible and soon became a Christian by reading it. Katie is now on fire for the Lord. She’s involved in her own ministry to other women and children of incarcerated people. In addition to ‘Call Me Vivian,’ she had also written a study guide and a children’s coloring book.”
Psalm 146 says that God “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free.” He is clearly doing that through Ray Hall and Prison Book Project – reaching the oppressed through books and using the message of His Word to set them free. It’s a privilege for Biblica to partner with such a timely ministry.