When the Savior implores, “Come unto me,” that our burdens may be lightened on Earth and we may enjoy exaltation afterward, does He extend that invitation to everyone?
Al Jensen think so. He is President of the church’s Maricopa County Correctional Branch, presiding over approximately 11,200 inmates in the county’s seven jails. Between 37 volunteer service missionaries and himself, the gospel is taught in one of the jails each day of the week.
President Jensen is starting his eighth year of service. His wife hopes he continues for the rest of his life, because he’s happier than ever.
Elder Robert McKay has taught in the jail ministry nearly every week for 21 years. He says of his experience, “I’ve never been disappointed. Not once.”
In each classroom where humble, incarcerated children of God seek light and hope, and the Lord’s servants suspend all judgment and lovingly minister to them, the Holy Spirit abounds. Inmates often clap with indescribable joy as they learn that no matter what they’ve done, the Atonement of Jesus Christ has made it possible for them to be forgiven.
President Jensen doesn’t prepare lessons. He prepares himself to teach by the Spirit by reading several chapters of scripture. He follows the counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 84:85, in which the Lord says, “Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say.”
One morning, Jensen read Moroni 8. He felt the prophet Mormon’s frustration that children younger than the age of accountability were being baptized.
Later that day in Jensen’s class in Estrella Jail, a woman became distraught. Other women consoled her as she sobbed. Finally able to speak, she asked a question that had burdened her for years. Would she and her son who died in infancy spend eternity in hell because neither had been baptized?
Being told and believing they were condemned, she had started drinking heavily to relieve her anguish. She wound up homeless and eventually in jail. Jensen assured her that she was about to receive wonderful news. Everyone followed along in their own copies of The Book of Mormon as he read Moroni 8:8-24 and they learned that “little children are alive in Christ” and they “need no repentance, neither baptism.” The entire room was soon shedding joyful tears.
President Jensen has an effective way to teach about baptism, particularly to those who have been baptized in another church. Instead of saying that it must be performed with proper authority, which offends some and dispels their interest, he offers, “Let’s see what The Bible says.”
They read in John 3:5 that they must be baptized; in Acts 2:37-38 that repentance and baptism are requirements, enabling the gift of the Holy Ghost; and in Acts 19:2-6 that re-baptism is necessary to receive that gift. Why is it vital? Turning to 2 Nephi 31:13 & 17 and 3 Nephi 27:20, they learn that the Holy Ghost sanctifies them, preparing them to meet our Father in Heaven. Many then feel the Spirit testify that it’s true and ask to receive those ordinances.
Once their freedom is restored, many indeed enter the cleansing waters of baptism, sometimes bringing along their whole family from a situation of violence and fear into the tranquility Christ provides His disciples. Astonished by the miraculous transformation, their loved ones desire to know its cause. Soon afterward comes the opportunity to be sealed together for eternity in the temple.
For information on service opportunities in this special mission, please contact your bishop.