Yokefellow Prison Ministry of North Carolina is an outgrowth of the Yokefellow movement, begun in the 1950’s by the Quaker theologian and leader, Elton Trueblood.
Dr. Trueblood boarded a train in 1946 going to a speaking engagement in Cleveland, Ohio. He carried his Bible, and on the way began to read Matthew 11:28-30: “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Suddenly he had an inspiration centering on the image and function of the yoke. Just as oxen yoked together can accomplish more than a single animal, why can’t Christians “yoked together” give added strength to the cause of Christ. And the Yokefellow model for ministry was born. The idea is simple: Christians being yoked together for fellowship, encouragement, and mutual support.
Some years later, he was invited to address the American Association of Correctional Chaplains, and he choose to share the Yokefellow model with them. In 1964, 3 pastors from North Carolina went to Pennsylvania for a Yokefellow retreat. They were so impressed that they brought the Yokefellow model and dream back to North Carolina. For the next few years, Yokefellow was shared primarily in local church and retreat settings. But in 1969, the first effort to carry Yokefellow into a prison in North Carolina took place, and Yokefellow Prison Ministry of North Carolina was born. The ministry was later incorporated as a NC nonprofit in 1972.
Since 1969, Yokefellow Prison Ministry has lived out its mission statement: “to enable prisoners, yoked in personal relationship with community volunteers, to examine their lives; experience the forgiveness, healing and power of God’s love; and return to family and community with a covenant commitment to personal responsibility and contribution.”
Yokefellow Prison Ministry Today
We strongly believe that people’s lives are changed through committed relationships. We work to make the redemptive love of Christ known through the trust and the care present in these relationships.
Each week over 400 volunteers from a variety of churches across the state conduct Yokefellow meetings for prisoners in almost two-thirds of our state correctional facilities. Our volunteers are male and female, clergy and laity, from different racial, ethnic and denominational backgrounds. Some have served for over 30 years! – A testimony to the blessings involved in such experiences. Thousands of prisoners have found acceptance, a listening ear, an encouraging voice, and the reality of Christ’s love.
Local groups are led by a volunteer Yokefellow Group Coordinator who takes responsibility for recruiting, supporting, and communicating with local group members, the local corrections facility staff, and the state-wide office. Regional Coordinators provide training and support for a cluster of individual Yokefellow groups.
Our staff includes a part-time Executive Director and a part-time State Developer. Our Board of Directors is composed individuals from across the state representing a variety of denominational backgrounds.
The annual budget is funded by a few denominational grants, but primarily through the generous gifts of local congregations and individual donors. Yokefellow is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization.
The Annual Meeting, typically held the last Saturday in October each year, provides a time of fellowship, sharing, and inspiration for Yokefellows from across the state. It is also when members of the Board of Directors are elected, the annual budget is approved, and any other necessary business is conducted.