When Kathleen Skaar moved to Raleigh more than 20 years ago, she and her husband, Anders, did the “proper thing:” joined a church. Both admit they did not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at the time.
In April 1995 Skaar attended a church-sponsored women’s retreat. The speaker invited everyone that did not know Jesus personally to pray and commit their life to Him. Skaar gave her life to Christ that day. “My life changed pretty dramatically,” she said. “I began reading the Bible and Christian books. Every time I had a question, God would bring just the right book at just the right time. So I started thinking, wouldn’t it be great if people had the advantage of reading these books?”
The seeds of a unique ministry sprouted out of that question. Christian Library International (CLI) began very small as Skaar, founder and executive director of the ministry, looked for ways to make Bible study materials accessible to fellow Christians. She founded CLI as a way to share books with patrons in a local Young Men’s Christian Association in 1996. For several years she gathered books from church groups and individuals, and made them available to individuals and Bible study groups.
Something happened in 2002 that began to redirect the ministry’s focus. “We had some extra books, and we didn’t know what we were going to do with them, so we decided to see if the prisons could use them,” Skaar explained.
Prison chaplains reacted immediately with much interest. “Everyone we talked to said, ‘You have no idea what an answer to prayer you are,’” said Skaar. “They don’t have funds for these materials, so this was a great blessing to them.”
CLI sent an increasing number of books to prison chaplains, but their staff began wondering what was happening to the books. So they began stamping each book with contact information.
“We started getting all these letters from inmates saying how God was working through a particular book or how He was working in the prison,” Skaar said. “That was a great encouragement.”
Considering Henry Blackaby’s core statement in his book, Experiencing God, Skaar began to look “where God is working and join Him.” Applying that principle she realized God was working in the prisons.
“The Holy Spirit was working in ways far above average, so in 2006 we decided that we are a prison ministry, and we would put all of our resources in working with men and women in prisons.” Now the full strength of the ministry targets those who are incarcerated in the 5,000 prisons, jails and detention centers in the United States. CLI is currently sending materials to 1,450 correctional facilities. Some of the units have chaplains, but most do not have the resources to hire a chaplain.
CLI first operated out of the Skaar’s home, then moved to the facilities of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Raleigh. In July the ministry moved into an office building in North Raleigh. The new facility provides adequate office space, a shipping department and room for volunteers. Letters pour into the CLI office every day from prisoners across the country. Each inmate receives a hand-written letter from a ministry volunteer that includes a personal response to Bible-related questions and prayer needs.
A bulletin board in the new office is packed with letters telling the stories of more than 600 inmates who trusted Christ as their Savior last year. One prisoner said, “letters to a prisoner are gold.” Inmates know that CLI will answer every letter. No one is unimportant.
As each person is contacted Skaar said, “We can connect them to a Bible study and start discipling them.”
A video tells the story of an inmate who had a bad relationship with his son, but was able to lead his own son to Christ. “It was only because of the discipleship program that I could do that,” the inmate explained.
“God’s Word, no matter what form, will always accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. It never returns void,” added Skaar.
CLI is supported by churches, individuals, foundations and publishers. Partners listed on their website include the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Family Christian Stores, Lifeway Christian Stores and Prison Fellowship.
Many churches support CLI through book drives, financial gifts and volunteer support. The Summit Church, Providence Baptist Church and Bay Leaf Baptist Church are some of the ministry’s strong local partners. A church in the Atlanta area gives their largest support for prison outreach.
Will Gatling, associate pastor for missions at Bay Leaf, said the church supports CLI with a monetary gift each year and through church wide collections of books, tapes and materials annually. One recent book drive yielded 3,000 books.
“We’ve had a number of people that volunteer to serve at packing parties and other ways to help CLI,” he said. “It has been a great opportunity for our people to be involved in local ministry.”
Gatling served on the original CLI board of directors about 15 years ago. He said when the organization began doing prison ministry exclusively, “It’s like the world opened up to them and the ministry began to flourish. They’ve found a niche in ministry that I don’t know if anyone else does.”
Anders Skaar is a former executive recruiter who now serves as CLI’s communications director. He joined the ministry in 2002. They are members of Crossroads Fellowship. Kathleen Skaar has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Florida, master’s degree in business administration from Meredith College and a master of divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
CLI welcomes gently used Bibles, Christian books, CDs and DVDs from churches and individuals. Contact 4724 Hargrove Rd., Ste. 100, Raleigh, NC 27616, or (919) 790-6987. Visit the website: CLI.world.