Stacey Campbell "Father to the Fatherless" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the executive director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Our goal at the society is to extend the rich spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. We invite you to share these podcasts and our free, daily meditations with your friends and family. Through them, we can continue to introduce new audiences to the writings and the teachings of Henri Nouwen, and we can remind each listener that they’re a beloved child of God.
Now, let me take a moment to introduce you to today’s guest. Stacey Campbell is the president and CEO of Prison Fellowship Canada. We are working in partnership with Prison Fellowship Canada, developing a new program called Father to the Fatherless. Stacey is a wonderful leader and she has a deep, abiding faith in Jesus Christ. In addition to her executive duties, Stacey continues to work hands-on in Prison Fellowship’s national Ministry of Reconciliation. Stacey practices a biblical approach to transformation, justice restoration, and prevention, based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Her current work includes working weekly alongside prisoners, ex-prisoners, and victims.
Stacey Campbell, welcome to Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. It’s a delight to have you with us.
Stacey Campbell: Wonderful to be with you, Karen, and wonderful to be with the Henri Nouwen group today.
Karen Pascal: Stacey, tell me a little bit about how this program started in you.
Stacey Campbell: The project, Karen, really was birthed when you and I got together on a phone call, and had more of a personal chat, to get to know one another. And then, I just started to think, “Hmm. What could be the synergies, and what’s a vision that I might come up with for how the Henri Nouwen Society and Prison Fellowship Canada could work together?” And of course, it was so great. You reminded me that Henri and Chuck Colson had interacted, themselves. And so, here you and I are, all these years later. And really, the vision that I got immediately was around the prodigal son, and what a deep, deep wound that is in the prison system and certainly, in the whole world. But in the prison system there are so many wounds around fathers.
Karen Pascal: I was absolutely delighted when you and I spoke, and you mentioned that by coincidence you had given a Henri Nouwen book to everybody on your staff for Christmas. I thought, “Okay. We are on the same page, definitely on the same page.” And of course, it started for us in South Africa. It started with Denis Jacobs, who was actually using The Return of the Prodigal Son in prisons in South Africa, and had just written a thank-you note to us to say how powerful it had been.
But Stacey, I think something that you brought to the table was this incredible, deep understanding of the issue of fatherlessness and how that’s a crisis in the prison situation, but it’s actually a crisis in the world today. And not just for men; for women, too. So, tell me: Where do you think this is going? How is Henri being a fresh way of speaking to that need?
Stacey Campbell: So, Henri talks in his book about his encounter with the Rembrandt painting, and parses out this younger son, this prodigal, the father, the older brother. And immediately, we can see, first of all, ourselves in all of those roles. But Henri has a way of writing that is just a balm to the soul, and just brings healing into those conversations. And you’re right, Karen. It is an issue that goes beyond. And, as the project developed and the concept developed for this, we realized we need to take this to the local church, first. As potential visitors of prisoners, as we seek them out, they could be going through the story themselves. I’ve gone through the story. My story is a story of fatherlessness. And so, going through the story and reading some of the questions that came out and were developed as we worked on the study – I think they’re universal. I think they can hit us all.
Karen Pascal: It’s interesting that what Denis brought to the table was he had spent 10 years being one of the people who delivered the Alpha program in South Africa. He was very used to bringing that into the prison situation. And in a way, that also has been a bit of a model for us. I mean, Alpha has been so successful all around the world. And interestingly enough, I discovered that in the leaders’ guide to the Alpha program, they mention three books that they recommend to read. One was, of course, Nicky Gumbel’s book. He was the founder of Alpha. And then, there’s Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace? And then there’s Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son.
Stacey Campbell: Mm-hmm. The trifecta.
Karen Pascal: Is that the trifecta? That’s right. Exactly. I really get a kick out of that. Isn’t that lovely for us to be included in that? But there’s something else that you bring to the table that I confess we did not have, and that was the reality you have strong relationships with churches, because the churches have become a resource for you, obviously, to gain people who can become part of your prison ministry here in Canada. And I appreciate that. I think the idea that maybe this might be a program we can offer into the churches, it’s a wonderful idea.
Stacey Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. And of course, churches are core to our mission. Our mission is to equip and mobilize the local church to respond to the issue of crime, and so we often have churches that are willing, but either don’t have access, or they just don’t know where to begin. They might be fearful. They might just not understand how to navigate connecting with that population. And so, that is core to who we are. We love the local church, and we know, from Scripture, that that is how God designed the local church to be: to reach out and to love their neighbor, and even the Samaritan.
Karen Pascal: Well, you know what’s so exciting for us? I mean, we have just begun to share this with our Nouwen community around the world. And of course, people have responded from far and wide. We are not just a Canadian ministry. We’re a worldwide ministry, and certainly one throughout all of North America. What’s interesting is that our vision was to, in a sense, use Canada as, my expression has been “our petri dish.” It’s been the place where we could test this and get it right and then take it out into the larger arena.
So, the response has been so positive. People are like, “When can we get our hands on this?” What I want them to hear is how very carefully you folks have been working on developing the program so it really fits the community that you’re going to minister to in prisons. And I really respect that. I’ve been so moved to see the workbooks that you’re developing that go along with The Return of the Prodigal Son, because they ask deep and really important questions. They help somebody who’s reading The Return of the Prodigal Son find, “How do I fit into this picture? Where am I in the picture?” As Henri so beautifully draws us into where do you fit in this picture. But I appreciate what you are doing. What do you see down the road for this?
Stacey Campbell: So certainly, I’m on board with you, Karen, that this is something that we will start in Canada. And of course, we have a lot of institutions. We have 164 institutions in Canada. And so, we have a vast playground, so to speak, to use the material, and then just observe how is it being received, and not only what is the outcome, but what are the impacts that it’s having, and how is Henri’s work reaching into the prison and helping people to heal? And then, certainly, it’s just so obvious, I think, to both you and I, that then we both have connections internationally – you, with the Henri Nouwen Society and then myself, through Prison Fellowship and many of the different prison fellowship organizations around the world – my vision would be that we would be able to make it available and share it all over the globe.
Karen Pascal: It’s pretty exciting, that’s for sure. That’s one of the things that I’m kind of just feeling, certainly for our organization. We are thrilled to have your help with us reaching what we would say is an underserved community for the Nouwen vision. I know that I tried very hard to get through the front door and offer Henri Nouwen books in prisons, and the doors were shut for us. But you’re a trusted resource. Prison Fellowship’s a trusted resource. It’s wonderful that we have the feedback of how this has gone in South Africa with Denis Jacobs leading it there. He has been going into prisons for the last 10 years, and it was really the overflow of his, in a sense, initial success with it when he wrote us this wonderful letter, just saying “thank you” to Henri Nouwen for this book that so powerfully could be used in ministry there. So, we know we have a treasure in our hands, and now we have the way into the prisons through your ministry, which is trusted and respected, and is going to give us the opportunity to test this out here in Canada, and then share it with the world.
Stacey Campbell: Yeah. It’s very exciting. We’re excited as well. And very excited to, I’m very excited as we think about the healing that it can bring. You know, oftentimes what sits inside of somebody needs a gift facilitator who can facilitate a conversation and bring that out, and give somebody an opportunity to talk about their experience, and hear perspectives of others, and even laugh at the difficulties and things that we just experience as part of humans.
And one caution I really want to talk about is, it has the potential to draw out guilt. We hear from a lot of single moms who carry a really heavy burden and do the work of two parents. And when we talk about the impact that fatherlessness can have, and particularly as it relates to incarceration, we know through research studies that have been done by others, and many of them, that children from fatherless homes are eight times more likely to end up in prison.
It doesn’t mean that a hundred per cent of fatherless children are going to end up in prison, but sometimes when we say that, that’s what gets heard. And so, we really want to also encourage the caregivers and the moms and the grandparents and uncles and other people that step in where that is, that this is not an attack on fatherlessness. This is a recognition that we are all human, and in being human, we wound others. And so, that’s not something to feel guilty about, but rather to feel joy that, as Henri has pointed out in his book, we come to the Father and those wounds can be healed. And so, I’m just so excited.
Karen Pascal: You know, I’d love for our listening audience to hear a little bit of your own story. Would you mind sharing just a bit about where you have come from in your faith journey? Were you always a Christ-follower? Tell me just a bit about your own story.
Stacey Campbell: So, I actually became a Christ-follower through friends. Now, it’s interesting; I’ll go back further. And as I said, I have my own journey of fatherlessness. I had a grandmother and a grandfather. Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away when I was quite young, and then my grandmother continued on. But I spent a lot of time in my grandparents’ home, them watching out for me and caring for me. And my grandma loved Jesus. And so, that was my first opportunity to go to church on a regular basis, but more than that – to have somebody on a day-to-day basis who really modeled the hands and feet of Jesus in my life. But it wasn’t until I was 15 years old and in high school, and it was a friend there who started taking me to youth group and different things. And that’s where I encountered Christ and became aware of my own need for him, and accepted him. And that’s where my faith journey began.
Karen Pascal: I was delighted. I was just reading a little bit about a description of you as the CEO of the organization, and I saw a name that was familiar to me. Apparently, Ian Stanley played a part in bringing you into Prison Fellowship. Well, he played a part in my life, too, interestingly enough, when I was starting my business as Windborne Productions, as a television and filmmaker. He was the person who opened the door for me to work with World Vision, and it was a big door he opened, and I’m so grateful. It was, you know, somebody obviously who was able to open doors and willing to do it, and that was neat for me to see that in your story as well.
Stacey Campbell: I encountered Ian at the same time, actually, that I first became a Christian. He was the then-executive director for Prison Fellowship Canada. And I got a job working for a real estate development company which was giving office space to this new ministry that had started out in Canada, and it was Prison Fellowship Canada. So, we shared the common spaces: photocopy room, lunchroom, that type of thing. And so, Ian and I, that’s how we encountered one another.
And then, through a funny little story, I ended up in Ian’s office with Ian explaining. . . I’ll just briefly share that: I had come in the office one day and said that a boy in Grade 12 was going to pay me 50 bucks to write his English essay. So, Ian called me aside to tell me why I wasn’t going to get the 50 bucks and why I wasn’t going to write the essay. And really, he became my first spiritual mentor. And we met for years together and never talked about Prison Fellowship, never talked about prison ministry. He really just took an interest in me as a young person, and was a spiritual mentor to me. It’s so amazing how God takes these threads. And then, years and years later, it wasn’t until I was 40 really, or in my early forties, and God picked that thread back up and called me into prison ministry. And it was Prison Fellowship that I thought of, because of Ian Stanley. And Karen, the day I was photographed, coming into PF, was actually the day Ian Stanley passed away.
Karen Pascal: Oh, my goodness. Isn’t that something? All the ways God has led us, and that somebody of that great character was there to be kind of the mentor to you – in some ways, a father to you, I guess, in that journey, really. You think about it: God provides his leadership in in different ways.
I’ve been so impressed with your leadership, to be quite honest. Prison Fellowship Canada is in great hands, I have to tell the people listening.
One of the things that I didn’t fully understand was when you started to talk about doing the workbooks, I didn’t fully understand what you understood so well. You were going to test this in the prisons and be sure that we’re addressing the right questions, not questions we make up, but the questions that would be meaningful to people facing this situation, and would, in a way, be most helpful for them to address and to speak to. I’ve really appreciated seeing this workbook that you have worked to develop.
It’s paved the way for what lies ahead for us. It will shape the way we develop videos, which is part of what the Henri Nouwen Society is going to be contributing to this initiative. We’re contributing the videos, but we’re also going to be contributing books. At this stage, we’re going to be equipping 50 prisons with The Return of the Prodigal Son in English, in Spanish, and in French, which is pretty exciting for us.
Stacey Campbell: Yep, that’s right. One of the first things we did in this administration – I came in from the business world, and although I wanted to come into ministry, I prepared myself to whatever degree I could for coming into ministry, I also realized when I got here: I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about when it came to where prisoners are at. I’d never met a prisoner. I’d never been a prisoner. I didn’t have a prisoner in my family.
And so, one of the first things that I instituted was that every staff member would spend a half a day per week in the prisons and jails in Canada. And that continues until this day. I wanted to make sure we knew what we were talking about, and we weren’t building lofty programs that sounded like a good idea, but that actually we were really carefully listening and then using the resources and stewarding those well, from our donors, to build programs and outcomes that addressed right at the heart of the issues.
Karen Pascal: Well, I certainly see that’s in operation in what you’re doing. I am amazed at the quality God has brought together, and grateful that this valuable gift that we hold, this treasure of The Return of the Prodigal Son, now has a way through prison doors.
I will say, and I have a feeling you have the same sense: Denis Jacobs, there in South Africa, who started this, he’s kind of our Nicky Gumbel in this process. There is an amazing passion in him, a godly passion, to bring people into a living relationship with a God who welcomes them and calls them his beloved. And that wonderful sense of homecoming, that sense that the father wants to say, “I don’t care where you’ve been. I don’t care what you’ve done. I’m so glad you’re back.”
I remember Henri sharing that, and it just reverberates in my memory, seeing him stretch his arms way out wide and just say, “All the father says is, ‘I’m so glad you’re back.’ And he doesn’t say, ‘What have you been doing?’ It’s just, “I’m so glad you’re back.’” So, this is about a welcome home.
Stacey Campbell: For sure. At the end of the day, your name is Beloved, right? And what a delight for the Father when we actually grasp that. And yet, we so often live in the false virtue of humility, that we must put ourselves down. We’re never worthy. “You don’t know about this. If you only knew this about my past, you would know that these things. . .” But what a delight! The Father delights in us when we actually get to the point that we realize it’s because of him, not because of us, but the truth is, at the end of the day, I can say my name is Beloved.
Karen Pascal: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s the best news of all. That’s the transforming power of God. I’m thrilled to be working with you. I’m thrilled to be able to share this with our audience, because people want to know about it.
Is there anything else that you would like to share that you feel is important to know, in terms of what we are doing, and perhaps the very pace of what we are doing?
Stacey Campbell: You know, one of the things that’s so delightful to me, Karen, is I think we are such a good witness when we partner together, when we bring the best of your ministry and our ministry, and Denis, and what he’s doing. And I think there’s so much joy for me in partnering, and I just want to say how grateful we are to be working with Henri Nouwen. We can do the work and we can pick up a book off the bookshelf and do something, but there’s nothing like the people of God working together with a common goal. It’s really, really enhanced what we’re doing.
Karen Pascal: I’m in total agreement. It’s a real joy on our end, as well. We realize this was something God brought together in his timing, and it came in that wonderful, generous way. There’s a generosity in it, I find, and people, I know, our community are just responding with a great generosity, because they’ve already experienced how blessed they are by Henri Nouwen’s teachings and writings. The resource of them has been of value to them, so the thought that they can somehow equip us to be able to help others is also really wonderful to see.
Stacey Campbell: Beautiful.
Karen Pascal: Well, I want to thank you so much. This is terrific. I love chatting with you. I’m excited about what’s happening. We’ll keep people posted, both of us: you on your website, we on our website. We will be keeping them aware. Our big launch, I guess, into the prisons and institutions here in Canada will really fully be activated in September of this year. But we are working towards that right now, with the videos being shot, with the workbooks being finalized. It’s a very, very exciting time.
Stacey Campbell: Wonderful.
Karen Pascal: Thanks so much for being with me, Stacey. Appreciate it.
Stacey Campbell: Thank you, Karen. Bye for now.
Karen Pascal: Bye-bye.
Thank you for listening to my conversation with Stacey Campbell. You’re going to find links in the show notes of this podcast for everything we talked about today, especially the program we’re launching in partnership: Father to the Fatherless.
Of course, we would love to encourage you to read or reread The Return of The Prodigal Son. It’s a wonderful, life-changing book, and we would ask you to be praying for us as we launch this new program, Father to the Fatherless.
I hope you have already signed up to receive our daily meditations written by Henri Nouwen. If not, you could do that on our website @henrinouwen.org. Remember, they’re free and they’re a wonderful way to stay informed about the various things we have to offer to those who enjoy the writings and the teachings of Henri Nouwen.
We’d also be grateful if you would consider donating to the Henri Nouwen Society. Your resources help us share the daily meditations and these podcasts and this new initiative, Father to the Fatherless, right around the world.
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Thanks for listening. Until next time.
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