“We are here to bring hope in Jesus Christ to our brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Rev. Afam Ikanih, LCMS chaplain.
The here he is referring to is the Milwaukee County House of Corrections, located in Franklin, Wis. It’s the second largest facility of its kind in the state, housing about 1,300 men and 200 women.
“Through the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, we share that these brothers and sisters in Christ can find hope in the Savior Jesus Christ.”
Only God will comfort you
Since 2008, Ikanih has baptized over 2,500 men and women. One of the baptized was a Muslim man. The story goes that a correctional officer, Anthony C. Watts, told the Muslim inmate about Rev. Ikanih and recommended he go see Ikanih for one-on-one counseling in regards to the death of his son.
The inmate refused to go because he was a Muslim. But the officer saw his condition and knew that he needed help.
“The brother in Christ was brought down to my office,” Ikanih said. “Immediately he looked at me and said ‘I don’t want to hear anything about Jesus.’ I said fine I can respect that.”
As the inmate was about to leave, Ikanih asked him if he could call his family to find out if the date of the funeral had been set up. The inmate agreed and Ikanih made the phone call to his family.
During the conversation with his family, the inmate was crying and punching the wall. Ikanih said, “I’m sorry about your loss but only God will comfort you.”
The following day Ikanih went to his cell block to visit the inmate.
“I informed him that I was there to check on him,” Ikanih said. “I also informed him not to hesitate to let me know if he needs another phone call to his family.”
Then Ikanih went back to his office. His phone was ringing when he got there and he picked up the phone. It was an officer saying that the Muslim inmate wanted to come and see Ikanih. The inmate was brought down to the chapel and asked Ikanih if he could pray for him. Ikanih prayed for him and the inmate went back to the cell block.
Forgiven and never forsaken
Eventually, the Muslim came down to the chapel on his own. At the time, other inmates were in an instruction class for baptism. He asked Ikanih, “What is baptism?” Ikanih explained what baptism meant and said, “Jesus died for our sins and through baptism Jesus forgives us our sin.”
The Muslim said, “Are you sure that my sin will be forgiven?” Ikanih said, “yes.” The inmate said, “My Quran did not teach me something like that.” The inmate joined the class and was baptized.
And he does this from the beginning: Ikanih doesn’t refer to his flock as inmates. Instead, “they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Fortunately, the impact Ikanih’s ministry has had on the inmates is obvious. One officer told the chaplain that the cell block he patrols has been peaceful since the reverend arrived.
In fact, the inmates argue only over two things: the Word of God and which version of the Bible is the best.
You are not alone
For those inmates who refuse to visit the chapel or let Ikanih visit their cell, there is Haircuts for Jesus. “I am gifted to cut hair like a barber so I can target the people who don’t visit with a free haircut,” Ikanih said.
The facility management eventually gave Ikanih a room for the haircuts.
“Every Tuesday I have about 40 to 45 people who will get the Word of God as I cut their hair.”
Haircuts for Jesus is just one of many avenues Ikanih uses to reach the inmates. Other events include Bible studies, spiritual counseling, a leadership summit, Christmas concerts and more.
After attending one of these events, some inmates find their way to the chapel and on their way to a relationship with Ikanih that can only be described as beautiful.
Enjoying full fellowship with God
Christ’s love has shined brightly through Ikanih. The result is a crowded chapel. “… God has blessed the mission in our facility. As a result, … the chapel has been moved to a new location for an expansion to continue teaching and preaching Christ … and to accommodate brothers and sisters that come down to worship.”
Ikanih will also get his own office (he’s shared one for the past ten years), an essential arrangement given the private nature of some of his conversations.
The chapel will have its own restroom for inmates, new sound equipment and instruments and all new correctional grade chairs.
The total cost of the project is approximately $200,000.
Around $175,000 has been secured through partnerships with local organizations and churches.
The remaining $25,000 is coming from Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s (LCEF) Kaleidoscope Fund.
The Kaleidoscope Fund, a granting program established in 2016 by LCEF, helps ministries like Ikanih’s shine brightly and share the Gospel.
“The Kaleidoscope Fund has been a huge help in so many ways,” Ikanih said. “We have the desire to prepare a place of worship that exudes excellence. Offenders must find the space inviting and if just for a short period of time remove the stigma of incarceration and enjoy full fellowship with God.”
By God’s grace, Ikanih’s ministry has made a noticeable impact on the lives of inmates in the Milwaukee County House of Corrections. LCEF, through the Kaleidoscope Fund, is grateful for the chance to support this ministry and Ikanih with finances and prayer.
Join us as we pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy on Rev. Ikanih, his prison ministry and the inmates and officers of Milwaukee County House of Corrections.