Meet the New President of Prison Fellowship Ministries

Janet Chismar | Senior Editor, News & Culture | Thursday, January 17, 2002

Meet the New President of Prison Fellowship Ministries

Mark EarleyThe morning after Mark Earley lost Virginia's gubernatorial race, he awoke with a sense of anticipation. He realized a season of life had just ended, but found himself looking forward to the next one. "I remember the day after the election was over," Earley told in a recent interview. "In my quiet time, I affirmed the fact that God closes one door and opens another. I had this real sense of excitement about the door God was going to open, although I didn't know what it was."

Now he does. Earley has been named the new president and CEO of Prison Fellowship Ministries, effective Feb. 1, 2002.

"Chuck Colson called me a couple of days after the election was over and said that they had been looking for someone for four years to be CEO and to be ready in a few years to take over for him as he began to gear down," Earley recalled. "As I prayed about it, I just felt more and more a calling of God to be involved with Prison Fellowship."

Colson, who founded the ministry in 1976, will remain as chairman. "Prison Fellowship is my first calling," he said in a press release, "and I'll continue to serve God and the ministry as I have, speaking, writing and setting the vision. God continues to bless me with great health, and I plan to continue to give everything I've got to Prison Fellowship and work closely with Mark as he assumes his new responsibilities. It is reassuring that we have the leadership team in place to direct this ministry well into the future."

Prison Fellowship, which is headquartered in Reston, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., is the largest prison outreach and criminal justice reform organization in the world. Based on the premise that at the heart of every criminal act is a destructive decision, Prison Fellowship volunteers and staff equip churches and communities to help prisoners, ex-prisoners, and youth-at-risk reject crime and become contributing members of their families and communities.

Earley, 47, was the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1997-2001, when he resigned to become a gubernatorial candidate in the November 2001 election. He represented the Chesapeake, Virginia Beach and Suffolk areas of Virginia as a State Senator from 1987-97.

Currently an attorney with the law firm of Troutman Sanders LLP in Richmond, Va., Earley will remain in that city until the end of the school year. "I have six children and all of them are in school," Earley explained. "We have three boys and three girls. The youngest is 5 and the oldest is 18. There's never a dull moment," he added. "It's a lot of fun."

And it will be fun for Earley to return to his roots in ministry. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Earley served on the staff of The Navigators, an international ministry active in evangelism and discipleship on college campuses and military bases.

"I always felt that I wanted to get back into full-time ministry once my season in politics was over," he shared. "That's where I began and it's the reason I got involved, really, in elective politics to begin with -- out of a desire to have an impact upon the world, upon public policy. To some people it sounds like a big shift. For me, it's doing what I've always been doing for Him, but doing it in a different arena."

Earley become a Christian when he was a senior in high school. He majored in religion at The College of William and Mary, with plans to eventually enter full-time ministry. But not right away: "I wanted to roll up my sleeves and work. I was anxious to to serve in the Third World," he explained.

So Earley traveled to the University of the Philippines to work with the Navigators staff - a time and a location that changed his life forever. "It was really there that I felt that the Lord was leading me to get involved in public service, " he said.

"When I was there, Marcos was president and the nation was under marshal law. People would ask me, 'What's it like to be in America? ' I really woke up and realized all the incredible freedom and liberties that we take for granted in this country are not enjoyed throughout the world."

In the second part of our interview, Mark Earley shares his vision for the future of Prison Fellowship.