Andy Corley: CEO of Prison Fellowship International has Salvationist Roots

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Both sides of my family are fourth generation Salvationists. I was steeped in Salvation Army culture in my home corps of Sheffield Citadel in England. I spent my time balanced between having an excellent childhood in The Salvation Army and passionately playing sports. At 18, I came over to Camp Ladore [The Salvation Army Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division] to work as a camp counselor.

I had a real heart for God during my childhood, but somehow, the personal relationship with Jesus had escaped me. When I was at Camp Ladore somebody challenged me about my own walk with the Lord Jesus. Then I heard Tony Campolo speak. One night three weeks later, I sat on a bench and just knew God loved me and He was there. I absolutely knew Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be and He died on the cross for me personally.

Many things changed but I was on a university track which I continued. It was apparent to me that whatever I did going forward, it would have to be heart and soul. I learned that from The Salvation Army.

Faith in the Marketplace

The first thing I realized was God loves excellence. Whatever your hand finds to do, you do it with all your heart, soul and strength. I found that the Scriptures were incredibly helpful. Proverbs and the Old Testament law have principles of how to work, how to create community, how to run our lives.

As I had more opportunities to speak about it, a strong desire grew in me to be authentic as a leader. The Scriptures talk about it: “Show me a man who’s skilled and his work is done before kings, not before obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29). When we look at excellence, we want to do everything to the very best of our abilities. Opportunities then open up, creating a space for that kind of a person.

Servant Leadership

When I was applying to be a director of a corporation that was worth close to a billion dollars, in the United Kingdom, I was interviewed by an industrial psychologist for a full day to work out whether I was competent enough. At the end of it, he pulled me aside and said, “You need to know something. Your stats are the equal in terms of competency to all the other directors. You definitely have what it takes. However, there’s a very strong servanthood element. You see leadership as being service.”

I hadn’t been conscious of this. I thought everybody thought that way.

What I love about Prison Fellowship International is that we are directly obeying things Jesus tells us to do. There are so few serving in this particular space to genuinely impact lives. Prison Fellowship International is able to do that. There aren’t many stories more powerful than when God meets a man or a woman in prison. It’s a moment of truth, where light meets darkness. It’s where justice meets grace. When men and women are transformed by Jesus, they have powerful testimonies. When you get a prisoner in front of you whose life has been completely turned around, there’s something that’s undeniable about it.

Prison Fellowship International

Prison Fellowship International is a family of independent national ministries in 115 countries. Each of those ministries is led by local people, who mobilize a huge number of volunteers—totaling at least 45,000—around the world. The Secretariat for Prison Fellowship International, based in Washington, D.C., brings together our regional directors, who reside in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and South America, as part of that team. We exist to serve the national ministries. We do that through, amongst other things, design and co-implementation of effective programs.

We’re doing the same thing with our children of prisoner’s program.

We have more than 4,000 children in eight countries, receiving support and one-to-one sponsorship. We also focus on reconciliation through our restorative justice program called the Sycamore Tree Project®. Based on the story of Zacchaeus, who meets Jesus and then goes through reintegration and restoration to his community. Something goes off in Zacchaeus’ mind. He understands that coming to know Jesus and coming into His Kingdom involves him in a personal transformation but also transformation in his own community. We’re turning offenders into peacemakers.

These programs are now active in 37 countries in different ways. Our ambition is to grow those three programs.

The Grand Vision

In ten years, I hope we will have spoken truth, been prayerful and unequivocally centered on the Lord Jesus in our individual and corporate relationships. Second, I hope as we grow and adapt we will be practical in our approach, and known to be outstanding in our field for what we do on the ground, whether it’s Sycamore Tree or the children of prisoner’s program. Third, I want us to be known for the ability to speak prophetically about what is close to God’s heart. What does justice really mean? What are the best practices for rehabilitation? Our prisoner systems around the world are groaning. They are broken. When people get into those systems, they rarely emerge better off. We believe we have a part to play in offering transformative solutions. When I talk about the strategic genius of Jesus, that’s what I mean. That’s why He tells us to visit people in prison. That disconnection from the community is what keeps people locked in cycles of crime. It’s not the only thing but it’s a major thing.

We face the challenges of enough resources. It’s for us to figure out how we can attract people to partner with us. We work in a hard landscape. There are disappointments, particularly when people fail. We’re rubbing shoulders with broken people. But it becomes a beautiful thing when people’s lives are transformed.

Read the full article in the August issue of the War Cry available a your local corps or subscribe at thewarcry.org/subscribe

— As told by Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee, Editor in Chief and National Literary Secretary