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Missionary moments: Serving inmates

Elder Josiah Sirrine is a Church-service missionary in the Maricopa County (Correctional) Branch of the Phoenix Arizona Stake. He ministers to the spiritual needs of inmates at two local sheriff's office jails. He explains the experience:

"The detention officers escort us into a 'pod' housing 70 inmates. They announce, 'LDS services!' Typically, about 10 inmates come to a separate classroom equipped with a VCR/DVD player and a white board. A few come to get out of their cells, but the majority truly want to change their lives. We feel no concern for our safety. The inmates love us and look forward to our visits. We are locked in the classroom for nearly an hour until the detention personnel return. We are not restricted as to what we teach so, of course, we preach the restored gospel and distribute Bibles, copies of the Book of Mormon, the Ensign magazine, and Gospel Principles manuals.

"We also encourage homework and use a set of 49 lessons. When an inmate completes a lesson, it is brought to class, turned in to us. We then take the collected lessons home, read them and respond in writing.

At the next meeting we return each lesson, collect the new ones and give them another. After 49 lessons are completed, each inmate who participates is awarded a highly prized color certificate.

"The first lesson instructs them to pray and ask for a manifestation of how God feels about them. The second reminds them to pray for a manifestation of God's love, and the third asks the participants whether they prayed as requested in the second lesson. If they had not, they were to go back and complete that assignment. The results were amazing. When that feeling of love flooded over them, they could hardly believe it, because they thought they had sinned so much God couldn't possibly love them, or that He would not want to hear from them. This is truly a life-changing experience for those who participate.

"Those who have a religious background are astounded when the lessons take them into the book of Moses where they learn that there was a spiritual creation before the physical creation. And when they learn that there isn't simply a heaven or a hell, but that there are many degrees of glory, they often respond, 'Why hasn't anyone told me these things before?!'

"That phrase keeps ringing in my ears, and I can hardly wait to get back to the jail to teach more classes. This has been the most gratifying thing I have ever done."

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