CRC Members Serving Through Crossroads Prison Ministries for 40 Years

CRC Members Serving Through Crossroads Prison Ministries for 40 Years

Posted 05/03/2024
Anita Ensing Beem

As Crossroads Prison Ministries celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, hundreds of Christian Reformed Church members representing about 224 congregations from across the U.S. continue their commitments to the Bible study correspondence ministry.

Crossroads, founded in 1984, uses mailed curriculum and letter writing to disciple incarcerated men and women through Bible study. Volunteer mentors on the outside read the lessons submitted by correspondence students on the inside. Mentors from a wide variety of denominations serve almost 30,000 Crossroads correspondence students.

Terry VerHage, 92, a member of Hillcrest CRC in Hudsonville, Mich., has been a mentor since 1991 and has read more than 1,300 lessons and written as many encouraging letters to the participating students. She refers to them like family and sees her experiences with Crossroads as being a disciple. She also volunteered for 15 years in Crossroads’ Grand Rapids, Mich., office.

Crossroads students study the Bible in tiers, with the first level covering courses like Who Is Jesus? and Great Truths of the Bible. Students who reach Tier 2 are given a mentor such as VerHage who continues with them through that tier and beyond, covering the Sermon on the Mount, It All Belongs to God, and several other lessons. Continuing with the same mentor from this point on allows a relationship to develop between mentor and inmate.

Alice Parker became a Crossroads mentor 21 years ago while a member of the former Hope CRC in Rapid City, S.D. She now also serves as a Crossroads ambassador throughout South Dakota. Parker currently mentors nine students, writing to them regularly along with reading their lessons. She says she absolutely loves the ministry.

A recently published book, I See You: Remembering the Incarcerated Through a Living Letter, introduces and equips new mentors for Crossroads ministry. It was written by the organization’s director of church mobilization and former Crossroads student Douglas Cupery, as an aid for anyone who writes letters to prisoners. Cupery says every letter to a student should “convey the message that they are seen, remembered, and valued.”

Connecting with individual prisoners as individuals has been part of the Crossroads ministry since the beginning when Tom DeVries, a Christian with a passion for prison ministry, dreamed up a way to remain in touch when people he was getting to know got transferred to other prisons. DeVries joined Sunshine CRC in Grand Rapids, which was interested in pursuing the ministry, and he, his wife, Judy and brother, Jim, initiated what was first called Crossroad Bible Institute. They developed curriculum with the help of educators like Ed Roels, then president emeritus of Reformed Bible College (now Kuyper College).

Crossroads started in Canada in 1998 (since 2021 as Crossroads for Prisoners Canada) and now operates in 29 countries outside the U.S.

Maintaining a large enough roster of mentors to meet the spiritual needs of the growing number of Crossroads students is a challenge. The ministry notes it is currently looking for mentors who are Spanish speaking.