John and Andi Bayer have such compassion for incarcerated men and women that they have devoted the last several decades of their lives to their small but influential Free At Last Prison Ministries.

“We believe God has a special unconditional love for inmates,” John Bayer said. “Great men of God, such as Peter, Paul, Samson, James, John the Baptist, Joseph and Jeremiah all were in jail.”

“Men like David, Moses and Jacob were murderers, adulterers and thieves but when they called on God and repented, God cleaned them up and used them mightily to advance His kingdom forward,” Bayer said. “God is still calling inmates today. He still cleans them up and uses them in the ministry.”

The couple, originally from California, has ministered as far away as Canada and Mexico and as close as East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and nearby state prisons, such as Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel. They are approved to minister in 65 prisons in 22 states, including the private Corrections Corporation of America facilities.

Last month, they and six volunteers served jambalaya to more than 900 prisoners and officers at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, just across the Louisiana-Mississippi state line, near Woodville, Mississippi. The Jambalaya Shoppe and Montalbano’s Seafood each donated 400 pounds of jambalaya, they said.

Warden Frank Shaw said the event was a first for the facility, according to a Jackson Clarion-Ledger article, which quoted him saying, “The expression on everyone’s face regarding the meal was one of great satisfaction.”

For the grace of God

The Bayers, who are both ordained ministers of the gospel, freely admit there is a special place in their hearts for inmates because, if not for the grace of God, they might be in prison.

Before they were married in 1975 and received Christ as their Savior after watching a 700 Club television program, they both lived lives of crime, they said.

“Scripture simply tells us in Matthew 25:36, ‘when I was in prison you came to visit me.’ That’s for everybody,” John Bayer said. “But when you live a lifestyle of sin, crime, mafia involvement, the Ku Klux Klan, and you come from a life where you marry a girl with a heroin addiction and was a prostitute — and we got saved! Something took place in our life!”

“We go because we’ve been there and done that and grew up with that and our associates and friends are in that kind of lifestyle. We’ve been forgiven, and we want to tell them,” John Bayer said. “Those that have been forgiven much, love much. That compels us to go.”

“The Lord put compassion in our hearts to reach back into where we came out of,” Andi Bayer added. “We could have been there — behind bars — but we didn’t get caught.”

Ministry by the book

Their latest project is what they hope to be the national distribution of a book they recently had published, “Ministry from the Inside,” written by Russell Nestor, a man serving 35 years in a federal penitentiary. Nestor wrote the 250-page book by hand and the Bayers typed it up and had it printed.

The book, called “a Christian Inmate’s Manual,” describes biblical instructions dealing with such topics as humility, honesty, forgiveness, joy and other Christian values, what is often called a good testimony. Along with the biblical information, it also discusses simple, daily mannerisms and healthy interpersonal relationships with inmates and officers as well.

The Bayers have already printed 5,000 copies and distributed 2,500, including 100 to the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary program at Angola.

The Rev. Dr. John H. Robson, NOBTS at Angola director, writes on the book’s back cover: “I was captured by the exhaustive subject-matter,” and “as I read it I began to see the vital wisdom (Nestor) was imparting.”

Angola Warden Burl Cain has even higher praise, declaring, “This book is a MUST READ for any prison official and offender. Best guide I have seen other than the Bible. Teaches how to make it, deal with yourself and rehabilitate morally.”

Tim O’Dell, director of Chaplaincy, for Corrections Corporation of America, writes the book, “is a practical guide to living out one’s Christian witness while incarcerated.”

John Bayer said he views the book according to the changes he’s already seen in offenders who have read it.

“When you see Aryan Brotherhood men — the white gang — getting saved and loving the black inmates around them, when before they would kill them, only God could have done that in that man’s life,” Bayer said about the federal prison where Nestor is incarcerated. “In reading that (book), God is coming off the page and teaching them how to live.”

They are asking the larger Christian community, especially churches, for financial help printing and distributing the books to as many local, state and federal prisons as possible. “We are all the body of Christ and we should be working together,” John Bayer said. “God is doing something here. There is a great harvest of souls coming out from behind prison bars in these latter days.”

For information, call John Bayer at (225) 810-6108, or visit freeatlastprisonministries.org.