Prisoners seek to live out God's call by feeding the hungry

September 12, 2016

INNISFAIL - Three years ago, when a group of inmates at Bowden Institution were asked by their prison chaplain how they could live out God's call to help those in need, they needed some time to think.

It wasn't easy. For the inmates, figuring out how men inside a prison could reach beyond the walls was a challenge. It also required them to change the way they thought about themselves.

"Incarcerated men are typically the objects of charity, and not in a position to be purveyors of it," said Rick, an inmate at the institution. "We have little means to reach out with a helping hand to the world outside the prison."

So they prayed and asked themselves: "Could a group of Christian men behind a prison fence impact the world?"

For those inmates at Bowden Institution, the answer was, and still is, yes.

After praying and brainstorming, they decided to hold a walkathon, walking laps around the prison exercise yard and raising money through pledges.

They held their first walkathon in 2013. Each year since then, the inmates have walked and raised money for various charities to help those less fortunate.

This year the proceeds of the Sept. 10 walkathon will go to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank's work in Ethiopia, where about 10 million people are in need of emergency food aid due to prolonged drought.


The project that will receive the funding from the walkathon is implemented by Foodgrains Bank member World Renew.

Bud Sargent, Protestant chaplain at Bowden Institution, gained a sense of pride from seeing the inmates organize and raise funds to help end hunger.

"Here they are – behind a fence with no resources, no power and no Internet – asking themselves how they can really help somebody," Sargent said.

"To see what God has done in their lives is a great feeling," he said. "They want to make a difference in the world."

This year, the inmates will attempt to collectively walk at least 800 kms, which equals 1,500 laps of the exercise yard. About 300 inmates are expected to participate, almost half of the prison's population.


One of the most special aspects of the Bowden Institution Walkathon, Sargent said, is its ability to help not only those beyond the fence, but also those within the fence.

"Not only are we helping someone in Ethiopia," he said. "But it makes the inmates feel good to do something for somebody besides themselves. It gives them great satisfaction, and it helps them feel like a part of the Church."

Peter Bulthuis, associate director of Church Relations at World Renew, agreed.


"The folks in Ethiopia will have their story changed away from hunger, and the folks in Bowden are changing their story from looking at the fence, to looking across the world," Bulthuis said, noting that several local Christian Reformed churches are promoting the walkathon to their members.

(To make a donation to support the walkathon, mark cheques "Bowden Walkathon" and payable to Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Box 767, Winnipeg R3C 2L4 or visit the donation page at Funds raised through the walkathon will be matched four to one by the federal government.)