And the Lord said, "Go" ...
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and invite you in? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' Matthew 25:34-40 NIV
Its ministry began September 21, 1983, with our first meeting at the Lehigh County Prison located in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Thirteen men attended that first meeting. Wayne Benjamin, Area Coordinator, Scott Anderson, Executive Director, Bob Ross and Molly Rayner made up the team members for the start of the ministry. Since then the Lord has truly blessed this ministry by opening many doors. At the present there are 28 Christian men and woman serving in various capacities. We praise God for bringing many souls to be saved and others who have rededicated their life to the Lord.
The purpose of the ministry is to show those incarcerated there is a better way of life, meaning, and purpose by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Then, as Jesus becomes Lord of their life, they learn how to live the Christian life God intended for them.
The Reverend Elton Trueblood was instrumental in starting the Yokefellow movement. He was a Quaker preacher, philosopher, author and teacher at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.
Following the Second World War, Trueblood observed that too many Christians were superficial in their practice of the Christian faith. In his writings, which were prolific, he urged a return to New Testament Christianity. He encouraged the formation of small disciplined spiritual groups that would engage in discussion on living the Christian way in contemporary society. He became much in demand as a speaker to promote these ideas.
In May 1949, Dr. Trueblood was traveling by train from Richmond, Indiana to Cleveland, Ohio, where he was scheduled to speak at the First Baptist Church. While on the train, he was doing his morning devotions, which called for the reading of Matthew 11:25-30, in which are these words of Jesus, "Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon you and learn of me, and you shall find rest unto your souls." While meditating on these words of Jesus, he had a revelation from the Lord that filled him with renewed enthusiasm and gave a name to the movement that he was promoting. Listen to his own words on what happened: "My reading that morning was 11:25-30. Though I had of course read the passage on many former occasions, it struck me with unique force. It was almost as if I had never before read the words, "Take my yoke upon you." Suddenly, I saw that this is Christ's clearest call to commitment. I realized that the yoke metaphor involves what we must require if the vitality of the Christian faith is to be recovered. With a minute or so, as an entire complex of thinking came together, I had a different sermon. The words which came to me on the train that morning I preached with the hour, recognizing that I was participating in a new development." p. 97, "Elton Trueblood" by James R. Newby.
Trueblood now had a name for the movement - YOKEFELLOWS. He had lapel pins made with the yoke as a symbol of the movement. He continued to encourage the formation of small discussion groups. He emphasized seven disciplines that persons need to practice in order to grow spiritually. He called them the Yokefellow Disciplines. They are as follows:
These spiritual disciplines are still emphasized in the Yokefellow movement and those who want to belong to Yokefellow are required to subscribe to them. Yokefellow groups began to spring up all over the United States and in other countries. I was in theological seminary at the time, the movement touched our campus, and I joined a Yokefellow Group and received my first Yokefellow lapel pin.
In 1955, Dr. Trueblood gave an address in Washington, D.C. to a group of chaplains from the federal prisons. He emphasized the power of the small disciplined spiritual group to affect a change for the better in the lives of participants. Two chaplains, one at Tacoma, Washington and the other from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania saw the possibilities and soon, working independently of one another, established Yokefellow groups in their penitentiaries. This was declared a success, thus was born the Yokefellow Prison Ministry.
Trueblood began to encourage the establishment of Yokefellow groups in prison. He made contact with a devoted Yokefellow in New Jersey by the name of Newman Gaugler and asked him to head up the National Yokefellow Prison Ministry. Newman accepted the invitation and established the headquarters in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Later it was move to Shamokin Dam, just across the river from Sunbury. He traveled throughout the U.S., promoting the establishment of Yokefellow groups in federal and state prisons. Later, he did a pilot project of a Yokefellow group in a county prison and found that it would work in that setting. He also developed the area council concept to insure the continuation of the Yokefellow Ministry in local areas.
A split occurred in the Yokefellow organization. A group withdrew from the National Yokefellow Prison Ministry and formed the Yokefellowship of Pennsylvania, with the office in Williamsport and the Rev. John Mostoller as the Executive Director. It was over administration that the split developed. These two organizations continued to exist and were competitive until September 19, 1986, when they united under the name of The Yokefellowship Prison Ministry with John Mostoller as the Executive Director and headquarters at 1200 Almon Street, Wlliamsport.
John Mostoller prepared many resources for the prison ministry - training manuals, discussion guides, audiotapes, and videotapes. He ran a resource center with a great variety of Christian books in addition to the Yokefellow Prison Ministry materials. He was especially great on the training of volunteers to do prison ministry using the Yokefellow model.
The work of promoting Yokefellow groups in jail and prisons through the U.S. and beyond was given over to the Prison Ministry of Yokefellows International, with John Mostoller as the Executive Director. In 1990, John Mostoller retired as the Executive Director of the Yokefellowship Prison Ministry of Pa, and the Reverend Donal Ripple was elected by the Board of Directors to take his place. He served for four years and focused his efforts upon establishing new Area Councils and strengthening existing ones. In September 1994, Wayne Benjamin became the Executive Director and the office was moved to Allentown. Currently, David Bowen is Executive Director. There are now 14 Area Councils. In addition, Yokefellowship Prison Ministry sends volunteers into 16 state correctional institutions, 23 county jails and 7 aftercare programs on a weekly basis to minister to prisoners for Christ in small groups. Approximately 239 trained volunteers are engaged in this ministry. God raised up this ministry and has sustained it since it began in 1955. To Him be glory and praise!