Preaching the Hebrew Prayer in Prison

It was a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there!

Last December I spoke in a Florida state prison on the Hebrew origins of the Lord’s Prayer. I had never been inside a prison before so I was quite nervous. Mike Harrell, who runs a prison-motorcycle ministry called “Born Again to Ride”, invited me to do this event with him. Mike goes into prisons all over Florida with a large assortment of Harleys and other loud motorcycles and then puts on a rock concert. The idea of “Born Again to Ride” is that inmates who would never otherwise be interested in God are drawn to the motorcycles and the music. When Mike first suggested I do a prison event with him, I warned him that I don’t know how to operate a motorcycle and don’t play any musical instruments.

Born Again to Ride

He assured me that my prison event would not involve any motorcycles or Christian rock bands. Instead I would be speaking at a weekly Bible study. The prisoners who participate in this sort of Bible study have already “cleaned up their act” and dedicated their lives to God. I would be there to teach on the Hebrew background of the New Testament to give them a deeper knowledge of the faith they already embraced. I jumped at the challenge and asked Mike to arrange it.

Weeks later when we finally pulled up to the prison compound I started to think I had made a mistake. The prison looked like an Israeli border fortification, surrounded by a high chain-link fence with plenty of razor-wire and watch towers at regular intervals. We had to go through several layers of gates and steel doors to get to the main entrance area where a guard searched our bags and our bodies for any contraband. We were then led down a series of hallways each of which ended in a steel door opened by an unseen guard in a control room somewhere. After about 10 minutes of this we finally arrived in the prison chapel where I set up my laptop and projector. The prisoners arrived about half an hour later. There were 30 inmates who came to the Bible study and a guard followed them in to do a head count before locking us into the chapel and leaving. One prisoner in the front row saw my computer and asked excitedly if it was really a “laptop”. He explained he’d “been inside” for 20 years and had never seen a laptop computer except in the movies.

As I introduced myself and the subject I realized I was locked in with Mike, the prison chaplain, and 30 convicted inmates; there was no guard anywhere to be seen! Despite my apprehensions, I was very pleased with how my message was received and later said to Mike that I especially enjoyed having a “captive audience”. As I presented the information, the inmates would often interrupt me with questions. I usually ask my audiences to leave their questions to the end. But I realized these men probably have few opportunities to express themselves so I decided to answer their questions as they came. Instead of just spitting back answers, I opened a dialogue with them. As they would ask questions I would respond – in a Jewish way – by asking questions of my own, in order to challenge them to think. As I interacted with the inmates, I was extremely impressed by their knowledge of Scripture and Hebrew. Mike later explained that prisoners have lots of time on their hands; those that dedicate their lives to God spend much of this time studying. One example that really stood out for me was when I asked them, in response to one of their questions, if they knew the Hebrew meaning of the name “Jesus”. The prisoner in the front row who had asked me about my laptop blurted out: “It means ‘Yahweh saves’”. I was surprised that a convicted criminal who had never seen a laptop before knew something that most Christians do not know. I asked him how he knew this and he told me he studies for hours on end with his Bible, a Strong’s Concordance and a Hebrew dictionary. This reminded me of a letter written by William Tyndale, one of the first people to translate the Bible into English. At the time, translating the Bible was a crime and Tyndale was eventually burned at the stake for his efforts. As Tyndale sat in the dungeon of Vilvoorde Castle awaiting execution, he wrote to his jailers asking for:

“a warmer cap… permission to have a candle in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark… But above all, I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Procurer that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study.”

I went into that Florida state prison fearing for my life but went out genuinely inspired by the dedication of these men to search out the truth and acquire knowledge even under the most difficult of human circumstances.

22 thoughts on “Preaching the Hebrew Prayer in Prison

  1. I was deeply blessed to "share" this experience through your account and to know  that I have such "brothers" in prison.

  2. Nehemia, that is really a sweet story.   I worked as a psychologist in prisons for 30 years and I know that it can seem 'unworldly' at times but the men are so appreciative that you've come to teach them something, in your case as a volunteer.  They really are gentlemen and thankful for you.  Thank you from me for taking the time. 

  3. Awesome stuff my friend!
    Is it not amazing how Yahshua of Nazareth utterly changed the lives of those men!
    I know you are not yet a follower of Yahshua, but I appreciate everything you do and teach!

  4. Shalom Nehemia,
    Michael and myself also went into the prisons with Mike Harrell and his team this past fall. We were also amazed by the amount of dedication these inmates have. Thank you for sharing your journey as it was identical to ours. Mike Harrell is a blessing to that State!

  5. Bravo Nehemia!  Some of our (my husband and myself) most fruitful work in ministry has been in prisons.  You don't have to break through the hardest objections.  They know that life without God is big trouble at best and a total a delusion at worst.  They know that there are more delusions to break through so this is a perfect audience for this study.
    Blessings to you
    ><> P

  6. Hallelu Yah, yes, I loved this story. I ministered to folks in prison before. What an experience. That is so awesome that they knew HaShem! Tov Meod and Shalom

  7. Having ministered to inmates here in Ohio, I understand all you metnioned about your visit.  They certainly can put us to shame sometimes.   Thanks for all you do in the name of Yahweh.

  8. Greetings, Nehemiah:
    I have a prison ministry, visit those I can, but have inmate 'students' all over the USA, and several in Florida. I am curious about which prison you visited. There are messianic groups in a few of them, and one in South Bay, FL, has a group of about 30 to 40 who meet on Sabbaths. I send DVDs to some of them.
    Keep up the good work
    Frank Brown

  9. Very inspiring.  Good for you in reaching out to those prisoners, and good for them for being such good Bible students.

  10. Blessings from Tennessee and I praise Yahuweh that He would use you in this ministry and that you would recieve such blessings from the inmates. Yah be with you, sister Lydia

  11. I just wanted to say how great I think it was of you and Mike to bring such deep truth to the inmates. I have always said that I don't care where it is preached at, as long as it is truth. People are hungry for the truth. They are tired of the same dogmatic preaching that they hear all the time. Their souls know there is more and that they are missing it. Thank you for taking "that" to them.

  12. very brave and unselfess thing nehimia done great mitzvot thank Yah for somebody taking part and noticing the familys in prison  shov-tov

  13. Thank you for living  Mat 25:36, as Yashuah directed.  You are a true man of Mashiach, in your heart and spirit.  Keep teaching, as there is much we Christians have to learn from the Tanach Foundation of our faith.
    Shalom, in Messiah's Blessing.  Arley

  14. Hello Nehemia, what a great story. Thanks for sharing.  Years ago I too went into the prisons to minister and sing and it was truly daunting.  Being a woman I had to dress almost like a nun and continue to remind myself that I felt I was being obedient to the L-rd by singing there and interacting with the inmates.  The wonderful thing about you going in is that you were bringing them the Hebrew!  When I began to study the Hebrew is when I realized I didn't have a clue about what I thought the Bible really said.  What a wonderful world the Hebrew has opened up for me in correcting wrong thought patterns I had and showing how "huge" G-d really is and how magnificent the way He relates and wants us to have a deep knowledge of Him.  The layers and layers of the Hebrew are so powerful.  My husband and I met you and bought your book when you were in Colorado Springs at Woodman Valley Church.  We were so impressed with the book and with you and by the way you had also taken charge and lost those 100 pounds!  Finding you through Michael Rood was a huge step for us is the right direction and we haven't looked back once.  Blessings on you Nehemia and we praise G-d for keeping you under His wings.  HaShem bless you.  Ginger Shaffer

  15. Wow what a great experience this must have been for you.  It hopefully will inspire me to do the same.  I met you once in Mesa AZ a few years ago with Michael Rood, and I can't quite get use to your new (lighter) look.  I'm guessing that the bald head does connect with your audience though.  ha ha.

  16. Nehemiah,
    Shalom.  Very cool  teaching people about " Lashon Kodesh"..the older I am blessed to get, the more I see Hashem's direction in peoples lives.   We are all just souls trying to re-connect with our Father and Creator.   May you be blessed.

  17. I was very pleased to know that you were able to leave that comfort zone, my brother.
    Most Christians would dare go to visit the sick for fear of getting something. You put your life on the line and I know you will be greatly rewarded for it. Those men will never be the same either. May yahweh bless you forever.

  18. Didnt read all the article but was highly motivated and impressed with what I did see. Just this morning I spoke with a brother on Facebook about what appearances can and cant do, telling him I know men who ride motorcycles, have tattoos, have earrings but can not be lumped together with unbelievers. They came to my boys detention (prison) and encouraged and moved the hearts of boys with their testimonies and life experiences. They were true born again Christians. I'd love to have you come to Charlotte NC and what a cool ride up the highways of NC. Come and share with MamaG here in Hidden Valley with boys and girls who need to see and hear the message of salvation from those who've experienced much more than I have. I love this and love what you stand for and what God is doing through your ministries. Keep preaching and teaching the world has shifted and evil has a foothold but God is all powerful thru men and women like you and I . Much love MamaG

  19. Thank you for courage. 
    As You well know that we don't all agree about many aspects of our beliefs our Father "Blessed Be He" seems to have opened a gate and let those like yourself lose to teach people like myself things that seemed to have been hidden for some many generations.
    You are an inspiration to me and to many others I am sure.
    But the important thing is that You are allowing yourself to be a vessel to help those of us seeking to better understand the instructions provided to our ancestors and not taught by our present day leaders.
    The result of your efforts cause me to further study, think, and discern. 
    I hope that you  translate the Book of Mattityahu for us.
    Be well, Be Strong.
    Mikhael  Johnson  St. Louis, MO

  20. I spent 9 years in a variety of Texas Prisons and can testify that I learned more truth from inmates about things that really mattered, such as the true names Yahshua and Yahweh, than I did from my seminary professors. There are very dedicated men studying the word in prison. I was one of them.

  21. Hallelu Yah , 

    Thank you Nehemia for taking the courage to go to those in Prison and sharing the Truth with those that thirsted.  I know that those men in prison that truly study and are followers of the Lord know when someone comes in and is not rightly giving out the word.  And I know that the men in prison there was truly blessed by your knowledge that you could add to theirs.  I know most prisons have libraries and you can not visit all, but perhaps you can get some of your books into the prison libraries.  Keep up the good work
    Shalom,   Terrie

  22. I think this is where Yeshua would of went to also.
    Great work Nehemia, as always.

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