Prodigal Ministries shares Christ’s love with prisoners

Ever wonder what happens to the money you put in the offering plate at Southeast Christian Church? About 20 cents of every dollar is given to ministries close to home, to church plants and ministries around the world.

Every partner is vetted on how they raise and spend funds, on their mission and message.

Funds support pro-life pregnancy centers in Louisville and Southern Indiana, ministries that reach those who are homeless, those who have been incarcerated, those who are ill, orphans, widows and those who face addiction.

Prodigal Ministries has been a longtime Southeast partner, reaching men and women who have been incarcerated and need assistance to get on their feet.

These days, it’s hard for Stephen Diehl to recognize the man he used to be.

He’s now three years beyond that “stranger” who was addicted to heroin and in and out of 14 different rehab programs.

“It wasn’t that they didn’t work,” Diehl said. “I didn’t work. I was broken. It’s hard to function when you’re broken.”

After being incarcerated in December 2012 for trafficking narcotics and receiving stolen property, Diehl’s heart began to soften. He met Charles Allen in the yard at Green River Correctional Complex in Central City, Kentucky. Allen was a longtime inmate on a mission to tell every prisoner within reach about Jesus. At first, it was irritating.

“He bothered me so bad,” Diehl said. “I’d tell him I know God is great. God is good. Now beat it. Then God started to use those things that seemed abrasive to get to me. Charles is instrumental in the relationship I have with my Father now.”

Diehl said turning to Jesus was a gradual, two-steps-forward, one-step-back process.

“Through it all, God never relented,” Diehl said. “Somewhere along the line, I began to tell God that I trusted Him.”

Life changed when Diehl began chasing after Jesus. He began working out, eating right and lost 78 pounds. He studied the Bible on his own as well as attended Bible studies. He discovered purpose and direction in life. He hung out with Allen, who taught him how to follow Jesus. Time in prison became discipling time, learning time, a transformation Diehl never dreamed possible.

Diehl was looking forward to parole last June when he wrote a letter to Jennifer Partin, executive director at Prodigal Ministries, a faith-based transitional housing and mentoring program for men leaving prison.

He had been to the ministry nine years earlier, after a stint in prison, but it didn’t go well. Partin does not remember the details.

“The men who come to us need a second chance in life,” Partin said. “Often they experience true grace for the first time. That can be a life changer.”

Partin said the approach at Prodigal Ministries is different because it is based on faith in Jesus.

“When Jesus is left out, hoping for transformation is discouraging,” she said. “I only see restoration through Christ.”

Many from Prodigal Ministries attend a Southeast campus, the Man Challenge program and Bible studies.

“We try to get them into something that will sustain them and move them to something new and different they never had before,” Partin said.

Diehl said becoming part of Prodigal Ministries changed the direction of his life.

“The beauty of God and His grace and mercy in my life is what has restored me,” Diehl said. “God didn’t just remove something and leave a vacuum. He’s removed it and replaced it with something so much greater.”

Prodigal is a temporary home for Diehl and four other men on parole. He has founded a faith-based health and wellness program called Fit for a King with the goal to mentor and encourage others.

“I pray, study and live with men who follow Jesus,” he said. “I can knock on their door anytime to talk.”

Diehl attends a Bible study led by Randy Stinnett, who also went through the program at Prodigal, and attends church at Southeast’s La Grange Campus.

Mike Berry, La Grange community pastor, sees Diehl at worship services every week.

“Every Sunday, Stephen brings his mom to church, then takes her to lunch,” Berry said. “He looks for me so we can catch up. I love seeing his big smile. He’s a new man. He loves Jesus and the people around him.”