Zion's Prison Mission

Prison Mission Closing

September 1, 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is with great sadness that we announce the closing of Zion's Prison Mission by October 31, 2011, due to lack of funding. The perfect storm of conflict within the ELCA and the recession has made it highly unlikely that other funding will become available.

You have all been wonderful partners. Your support, prayers, concern, and love for the Partnership Teams, returning mothers, and me has been the sustaining force of this ministry the last three years. We have helped 28 volunteers from ELCA, LCMS, Baptist, Christian, and Catholic Churches assist 8 mothers and 25 children in creating a better life. This is no small feat. Together we have done things no one thought we could do.

Our current operating Partnership Team and returning mother will continue to be supported by me on a volunteer basis until the end of their Partnership Year in March 2012. The ministry will keep operating until I find another job or October 31, whichever comes first.

Any funds the ministry receives from now on will be returned to the donor with a note of thanks. There are no weeds to express how grateful I am to all of you for your monetary support the last three years. You went above and beyond in a time of great stress and financial hardship.

Change can be sad, difficult, and frightening. But it also can be an opportunity to let God be God. All Glory and Honor to God, who, in the midst of change, remains changeless.

Peace and Joy in Christ,
Karen Wong, AIM


Zion's Prison Mission was a co-operative outreach effort with our sister congregations of the Central/Southern Illinois Synod Northern Conference and other local ministries. Led by our Missionary to Prisons, Karen Wong, AIM, the Mission's objectives were to:

Since its beginning in May 2008 the Mission focussed on two ministries.

In partnership with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), Karen Wong, AIM, was a part-time chaplain at the Pekin Women's Federal Work Camp until March 2011, when it was re-designated a men's facility and the women were moved elsewhere. Her ministry there included leading classes on "Boundaries" and "Changes That Heal" and one-on-one spiritual counseling.

Project Return of Peoria logo]  
Project Return of Peoria helped incarcerated mothers reintegrate into the Peoria community by matching each returning mother with a team of trained and supported volunteers for one year. We also educated the public about the barriers these women face as they seek to make a successful re-entry into the community.

The Mission was closed in October 2011 due to the lack of funds.

Resurrection: The Mission's Newsletter

    Spring/Summer 2009

    Spring/Summer 2010


About the Missionary to Prisons:

Karen Wong, an ELCA Associate in Ministry (AIM), began serving as a prison chaplain for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois in 1998. Prior to being called by Zion, she was the founding Director of Project Return of Central Illinois, which partners with incarcerated mothers returning to the Springfield area. She served as Central Illinois Director for Prisoner and Family Ministry of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois from 2001 to 2006, where she developed LSSI's prison ministry program and led the Storybook Project. Commissioned as an ELCA AIM in 1995, she served as Minister for Youth, Family, and Women's Issues at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, Washington, Illinois, from 1995-2001. She was called by Zion as a part-time Missionary to Prisons in May 2008, going full-time in September 2009 until the closing of the ministry in October 2011.


History of the Mission:

The seeds for this mission were planted in the late 1990s when members of Zion began to participate in LSSI's Storybook Project, where volunteers go into nearby prisons to assist incarcerated parents record themselves reading books their children back at home. For some time Zion also housed most of the books used for Storybook Project.

In 2001 Zion's Pastor Steven Tibbetts became one of three pastors offering Holy Communion to inmates of the Women's Federal Work Camp in Pekin, where Karen Wong, AIM, was an LSSI chaplain. She then established an office for LSSI's Prisoner and Family Ministry at Zion in 2004, co-ordinating the nearby Storybook Project and chaplaincy services. Karen also joined the congregation, remaining as a member after leaving LSSI to form Project Return of Central Illinois in Springfield.

In 2007, the Pastors of the Northern Conference began discussions to establish Project Return in the Peoria area. With Conference support, Zion called Karen Wong, AIM, in Spring 2008 as a part-time Missionary to Prisons to direct that effort. That summer Zion also entered into partnership with LSSI, enabling Karen to continue her chaplaincy at the Pekin Work Camp. The first two Project Return partnership teams were commissioned in Advent 2008.

The chaplaincy with LSSI concluded in March 2011 when the Pekin Work Camp was re-designed a men's facility. The Project Return teams, made up of 28 volunteers from Lutheran, Baptist, Christian, and Catholic churches in the Peoria area, assisted 8 mothers and 25 children in creating a better life. The final team was commissioned by Pastor Tibbetts and Msgr. William Watson at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, Peoria Heights, in May 2011 and was able to conclude as the MIssion closed that October.


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If you have any questions or comments, please write.

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church
Prison Mission
1534 S. Easton Avenue
Peoria, IL 61605-3407
(309) 637-9150

Copyright © 2008-2011 Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peoria. All rights reserved.
Created -- 28 July 2008
Last Revised -- 1 December 2011

URL: www.zionpeoria.org/prison.html