Featured Difference Maker:
Prison Book Project
Raymond Hall retired from his job at the Kennedy Space Center when he was 60 years old. He made a visit to a local prison with a group of other people and he noticed something that would soon change his life; the jail had no wholesome reading material for the inmates. Soon after that, while sitting on his back porch, Ray received a word from the Lord that he was to bring westerns to the local jail in Brevard County, Florida. He was very familiar with that category of books because he had collected many of them himself and he knew that in these books, the good guys always win, and the bad guys lose, a message he wanted to reinforce.
He quickly exhausted donating his personal collection of books and so he began going to garage sales and thrift stores and obtained as many books as he could. He began taking the books to the jail in plastic bags and they were much appreciated by the staff and the inmates. He then began sending letters to local churches asking if he could place a box in their foyer to collect books from the congregation and, of the 100 churches that he wrote, only a disappointing 12 were willing to help. Undeterred, he set a goal of collecting and distributing 1000 books in two years and, with the Lord’s provision, he was able to place an astounding 39,886 books in the first three years alone. At that point, he believes the Lord told him to stop counting.
He soon felt he should expand from his initial westerns-only approach to also send Christian books from world renowned Christian authors. He put in calls to several Christian book publishers and the very next day, he received two phone calls from publishers, and one offered him 20,000 books and the other offered 5,000. That effort has now grown exponentially.
By 1997, he’d sent two boxes containing approximately 65 books each to every prison and jail in Florida. Other authors and publishers soon signed on and he now has arrangements with an astounding 38 Christian book publishers who send him tens of thousands of books to place in the nations prisons and jails. He also receives books directly from some 20 authors and many of these authors are ex-inmates. Soon, publishers began to send him requests for books they would receive from inmates and he happily met those needs. The ministry kept expanding and by 2001, books had been shipped to all 50 states. Over 250,000 books were placed in 2800 prisons and jails just last year, alone. Over one million books have been placed in the last four years.
So, is it helping? Last year, alone, his ministry received over 15,000 letters from prisoners and chaplains testifying that these books are leading inmates from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light. Some time ago Ray ran a test at the local prison to determine the Christian outreach of just one box of books. Through this study, he was able to determine that one book placed in a prison library is read about 30 times and it takes an average of 8 hours to read. That means each book is providing 240 hours of ministry. Since each box contains about 65 books of which just one box results in 15,600 hours of ministry. It costs approximately $25.00 to ship each box, so for each $25.00 expenditure, one box of books does the equivalent of one person working 40 hours per week for seven and one-half years to minister to the inmates.
Though it is interesting to run metrics such as those, Ray has no way of accurately measuring the impact of the Prison Book Project and won’t know for sure how many lives have been transformed until he meets Jesus in Heaven. The Prison Book Project has approximately 30 volunteer workers and some of them are from a local church that come in weekly to place the Prison Book Project stamp on the books before shipping. This stamp has the name and mailing address of the organization and is how all the inmates and chaplains knew where to send those 15,000 letters last year. Thus, Ray does have some inkling of the impact of the ministry, but it is not a complete picture – yet.
As so often occurs, the Lord began opening additional doors of opportunity for Ray and the Prison Book Project that reached beyond prison walls. Missionaries from local churches began seeking Ray out to request books for their ministries. That opened up an opportunity for The Prison Book Project to send books overseas with the missionaries. God mightily blessed this effort and, to date, books have been sent to 38 countries through missionaries.Also, publishers began to receive requests from military chaplains for books and, in 2004, Ray was able to send several tons of books to them in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.
Ray has accomplished this with a miniscule budget and an all-volunteer staff. Even with unpaid staff, his costs have been high, and he has been forced to use nearly all of his retirement funds to help keep the lights on and fund this important work. The Prison Book Project receives approximately $100,000 in grants and private donations each year to fund the work, but like most ministries, it is nowhere near enough to meet the huge demand. Nearly all of the funds they receive go towards rent for the warehouse and the actual shipping expenses for the books. Currently, they have about 160 tons of books in their warehouse waiting to be shipped as soon as funds and packers become available
Ray acknowledges that he is getting older, but he knows this ministry will continue after he goes to his heavenly reward. By the grace of God, he was able to convince a much younger Joyce to marry him in 2014 and she is heavily involved in the ministry. She was the business manager for Destiny Image Publishers, so she knows business and books. The Prison Book Project is in good hands for years to come.
Ray’s main desire at this point in the ministry is for God to provide a warehouse to store books as they are received from the publishers. The current warehouse rental is $30,000 per year and that expense is equivalent to sending approximately 80,000 books to prisoners. Also, if Ray can’t take more books from the publishers due to a lack of space, then they will be sent to a shredder and their life transforming message will be lost forever.
Ray is typical of the Difference Makers I’ve met. Most are just ordinary people doing extraordinary things for Jesus Christ. In his case he didn’t have specialized skills, or a boatload of money, rather a big heart for serving others as commanded by his Lord and Savior.
If you have a heart for men and women in prison and if Matthew 25:35-36 has special meaning to you, or if you want to provide Christian reading material to missionaries and our armed forces, Ray would love to hear from you.Pray for them, donate, volunteer, or start your own ministry using the platform that God has afforded you. God Bless You.
Ray at the Prison Book Project can be reached by phone at 321-269-4100,
Follow them on Facebook@PrisonBookProject
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