In July 2013, Prisoners of Purpose published its first newsletter from Oxford Federal Prison Camp, Oxford, WI.The newsletter features an introduction to Prisoners of Purpose and the testimony of Eric Merkle. The full text of the main article is posted here. Other parts of the newsletter appear in other sections of this Website. The entire newsletter can also be downloaded below as a PDF for you to print and/or distribute as the Holy Spirit leads. Eric Merkle is a founding steward of Prisoners of Purpose.
Newsletter V. 1 No. 1 Summer 2013
ORIGINS OF PRISONERS OF PURPOSE
My name is Eric Merkle. I am a Prisoner of Purpose. I arrived at Oxford, Wisconsin Federal Prison Camp on January 9, 2010 to complete a 10-year prison sentence. The events and experiences leading up to my arrest and incarceration are many and for another time of sharing. It is sufficient for me now to just say that I am thankful God has converted my prison term to a time of service and purpose.
It is through this prison experience that He began to show me just how much Satan’s work has decimated the family by attacking men. Young men, old men, black men, hispanic men, white men, Asian men, etc. Prisons are full of men who have violated man’s laws and more fundamentally, the law of God. The consequences of these sins have devastated the women and children we are supposed to lead, as they are exposed to the continued spiritual attacks and fallout from the man’s wrong choices. I chose to become a man of prayer, a student of God’s word and a steward of the ministry of Jesus Christ.
I immediately became involved in the Christian worship group that held regular worship services in the camp chapel. Although Christian in name, the Word of God was not being effectively preached or taught. The two institution chaplains were in transition–one preparing to retire and the other preparing to transfer to another facility. The inmate-led weekly Bible studies were led by men with personal agendas. No one attended the evening prayer meetings. The chapel was used more for board games and ungodly banter than for spiritual pursuits. The influence of the Holy Spirit was absent from this place.
A scripture-based ministry was needed to break the chains of sin and teach men, many of whom have never had an earthly father in their lives, to be Godly men, fathers, husbands, spiritual teachers and community leaders. The Holy Spirit led three men to begin to pray. Brothers Ivan Eberhardt, Olukorede Osideko and myself began to pray. We prayed first for God to change us. We prayed for a renewing of our hearts, for increased spiritual discipline and to spend more time in the Word and prayer. We prayed to become men of prayer who would look at others with the eyes of Christ and become living testimonies in our words, thoughts and conduct.
We also agreed to be accountable to each other. God moves when obedient men pray and great things began to happen. The three of us experienced family protection and provision and God’s joy and peace. We prayed for God to send Godly men to support this ministry. Brother Alaric Bowers would join our group in the summer of 2011. The four of us continued to pray. We were directed by the Holy Spirit to begin praying at the 9:00 P.M. scheduled prayer time. We faithfully obeyed.
Without fanfare or promotion, we trusted the Holy Spirit to bring men after God’s heart into the prayer meetings. The four of us met nightly for approximately three weeks before a fifth person began to attend. A few days later a couple of more guys began to pray with us. Anywhere from 6-12 men of prayer continue to meet every night at 9:00. The names and faces change as men transfer and are released, but God has faithfully sent men to hold up this ministry through prayer. Brothers Albert Garcia and Edward Fedosky are examples of Godly obedient men who committed to prayer and made a difference.
Great things began to consistently happen because of the power of these praying men. Our Oxford church body began to experience change–spiritually. Personal agendas were ceased and replaced with scriptural based teachings. The growing prayer group grew in its experience with God’s provisions through prayer. The Saturday evening praise and worship services began to bring new faces into the chapel for spiritual change. We invited the entire camp to share in a time of testimony, song, snacks and fellowship. Many ate and a select few received the true food–a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The latter part of 2011 would bring a passing of the baton, as Brother Osideko transferred to another facility. Brother Bowers assumed leadership. The Holy Spirit unctioned him to begin a morning Bible study for seekers, centered upon the foundations of our Christian faith. Brother Bowers also was given the vision of a ministry that would serve the families of incarcerated men and women, by providing education and employment training for their family members during their incarceration. The program would also provide job, educational and skill training for the inmate transitioning from prison to their communities.
God continued to be faithful as we prayed for our replacement chaplains. Again answered prayer! A new yea chaplain was assigned to the Oxford facility, as a result of our prayers. He is a Godly man who lives and teaches the Word!
In January, 2012, my brother in Christ, Jerry Jarrett arrived at Oxford. A man filled with the Holy Spirit and equipped to lead this ministry as directed, the baton was passed to Jerry when Brother Bowers was released and Brother Eberhardt transferred in the spring of 2012. Faithful men continued to pray and God continued to honor those prayers. We continued scripture-based teachings. The release of the Word began to change the atmosphere of the camp chapel. The more we submitted to God, the more the devil fled. Board games and ungodly banter gave way to impromptu Bible studies.
In the fall of 2012, the Holy Spirit began to give birth and direction to Prisoners of Purpose ministry. It started when He led us into an in-depth study of the life of our biblical patriarch, Joseph. He showed us a man who endured the wrath of man and a natural prison experience in humble and steadfast submission to God and thereby, walked into his purpose. God’s spirit also showed us that He had the same walk planned for us since the beginning of creation.
By this time, Brothers Richard Rogers, Wayne Read and Dave Bartels had arrived at Oxford to take their rightful places in the prayer circle. As we each began to share what God was doing in and through us, with our family members, we witnessed how the Holy Spirit could encourage the hearts of others as they partake in our submission to God’s purpose and begin to sense their own. As our family members shared our transformation with others, the number of partakers that have circle with us in prayer has~been:multiplied.
Brothers Jarrett, Rogers, Read, Bartels and myself began having meetings.once or twice a week in response to the Spirit’s Prisoners of Purpose call. Through us, the Holy Spirit wrote a curriculum of spiritual development leading to the discovery of God’s purpose for any man or woman submitting to its teachings. As a ministry, we have also submitted an application to the Oxford Prison administration for recognition as an inmate organization. We resolutely sense the Spirit’s call to prepare the way for that teaching to be available at every correctional facility, juvenile detention center, court probation system and criminal justice intervention mechanism in the country.
In our initial offering of this course, no less than 17 men have committed to attending–more than 10% of the camp’s current population. Moreover, we believe that with minor modifications, the course can be the direction towards purpose for everyone seeking a deeper relationship with our heavenly Father. In the meantime, God continues to be faithful and answers our prayers. In the close of 2012, He sent the Assistant Chaplain we had prayed. He is another great man of God who lives and teaches the word with conviction. The Holy Spirit has also sent a new wave of young brothers in Christ into this ministry in the person of Brothers Donnell Thomas and Ahmad Williams–to help us reach every demographic in this camp. Also, Viktor Dommenko, a Christian who immigrated here from Russia, has joined us and received the mantle to take this message of purpose to the approximately 1 million Russian-speaking immigrants in the Chicagoland area. How great is our God!!
I am chosen by God and I remain confident that His ways are better than my own. The wilderness wandering times are over for me. I have chosen to obediently serve the Lord for the rest of my life. (Josh. 24:15). I resolve to be a man of integrity and courage. I am so thankful that He has converted this prison term to a time of service and purpose.
I am grateful that I have been chastened instead of forsaken. I have been refined by the testings of this life, as I have endured the natural deaths of my father and a brother; missed the wedding celebrations of my daughter and son; as well as numerous special times with my loving wife of 33 years. Yes, I miss being with my family, but I can honestly say–for this time, this is my ministry leading towards my purpose. I continue to equip and armor myself with His word, as I am being prepared for continued service.
I know that God,will redeem the effects of the natural time I have spent in prison. He has already redeemed the spiritual effects of prison, by the revelation of the purpose He has for me. I am blessed beyond measurement, as I obediently serve the Lord. I no longer view myself as an incarcerated inmate, but a prisoner of Jesus Christ–a Prisoner of Purpose.