N.C. Baptists minister behind bars
    October 26 2011 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

    Substituting another meal for meatloaf doesn’t sound like a big deal to many people.
    But on a September Tuesday at Johnston Correctional Institution in Smithfield North Carolina Baptists bought and prepared an alternative to the inmates’ least favorite meal.
    “The food was piled up on their plates,” said Kelton Hinton, associational missionary for Johnston Baptist Association. “Many said ‘thank you.’ Some said ‘God bless you.’ I felt satisfied that they knew who we were and they appreciated their gesture.”
    Feeding 650 inmates and staff took some planning, Hinton said.

    Dade Sherman, former chaplain at the facility and member of Smithfield First Baptist Church, made the event happen. Smithfield First provided funds for the project. Clyde’s Chapel Baptist cooked the chicken, beans and potatoes. Woman’s Missionary Union groups in various churches supplied the desserts. Eight volunteers – from Smithfield First, Clyde’s Chapel, Micro First Baptist Church, Pisgah Baptist and Princeton Baptist – went into the prison to serve.

    BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
    Volunteers give manicures to inmates at Camp Mundo Vista. Women from five minimum security facilities across the state took part in the annual retreat that is held by the Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina. Visit
    photo gallery.

    Sherman has helped spearhead several community-wide events over the years, including a law enforcement appreciation banquet in April and feeding faculty and staff at area schools. Hinton said volunteers have previously fed breakfasts or supper to prison staff.
    With the severe cuts to the Department of Correction budget earlier this year, North Carolina lost 26 full-time chaplain positions from its medium and minimum security prisons. Sherman was one of those chaplains. He had served as a chaplain for 11 years. Some legislators justified the cuts by saying volunteers could provide these services to inmates.
    An act passed in 2000 puts government in charge of ensuring prisoners are able to practice their religion freely. Because of the budget cuts, state officials fear lawsuits are certain.
    But Johnston association is not the only group of N.C. Baptists working in prisons. Churches across the state have prison ministries. From providing Bible leaders to training people to join the workforce upon their release, N.C. Baptists are finding ways to minister to prisoners.

    Prison retreat
    Each year the Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina (WMU-NC) hosts a prison retreat at Camp Mundo Vista for female prisoners in North Carolina. The funds are provided by the Heck Jones Offering. Even though the budget for North Carolina has been cut, the state still provided transportation for the inmates and staff to come on the retreat.
    Because these prisons are minimum security, the inmates have more freedom to work off site as well as to get special permission to go to this retreat. They are accompanied by correction officers.
    This year’s retreat brought 50 inmates and 10 prison staff. They represented all five minimum security women’s prisons. The retreat attracted 42 WMU-NC volunteers from across the state.
    Deborah Lockey, youth and senior adult minister at First Baptist Church in Morehead City, provided the music, and Mary Ellen Bowman, a member at First Baptist Church in Wilmington and leader of Christian Women’s Job Corps, was the main speaker.
    Bowman gave the ladies an overview of the Bible, explaining where the Old Testament and New Testament are and pointed out the index in the front that would direct them to certain pages.
    “The things I do to myself … who do I blame?” Bowman said. “I realize how broken I am. Broken and spilled out – that’s the only place you can even be healed.”
    Bowman talked about chaos in her home life.
    “I didn’t realize I was going down, down, down,” she said. “I didn’t realize I walked with my head down. I was a mess.”
    “I knew Jesus but life had defeated me.”

    Contributed photo
    Men from Clyde’s Chapel Baptist Church in Wendell prepare chicken to take to the Johnston Correctional Institution in Smithfield. Volunteers recently took in a meal to feed 650 inmates and staff at the facility.

    She gave the women a paper plate and a trash bag. She asked them to write things that have angered them or brought them down or even things that had excited or pleased them.
    One by one the ladies came and distributed the trashbags with their baggage written on plates at the foot of the cross.
    “I think it makes our job easier,” said Lt. Jeraldine Briggs, a corrections officer at Fountain Correctional Center for Women.
    Briggs, who had come for a second year to the retreat, said the people who lead the retreat “are wonderful.”
    Briggs participated in the fashion show they have for the ladies each year. The retreat offers them three days of devotions about God’s love for them and allows them to participate in a fashion show, talent show, arts and craft, and recreation.
    “The first year you knew it has to be God,” said Gwen Minter, who works at Raleigh Correctional Center for Women. “They came with love. It’s like a revival.”
    Minter said each prison has various ways to pick the women who participate, but they all have to be infraction free.
    Joan Ascue, who has volunteered for 10 years, works with a former inmate to do seminars, usually at WMU-NC events. A member of Island Creek Baptist Church in Henderson, Ascue said when she was asked to volunteer, she thought, “What could I do?”
    She’s been coming ever since. This year she had six women in her cabin. One gets out in 40 days and another in December 2012. The ladies are already talking about supporting one another through their final days in the prison and during their transition.
    “I’ve met some of the most wonderful women,” she said.
    Joyce Rogers called Camp Mundo Vista “holy ground,” for the volunteers, the prisoners and the prison staff.
    A member at First Baptist Church in Asheboro, Rogers lives nearby and she and her Sunday School class have adopted the camp as a service project. Several members of her class volunteered to help with the retreat, including giving manicures to some of the ladies.
    “I have often said I’ve been on mission trips all over the world but this is the best mission trip I’ve ever been on,” Rogers said.
    “We find they’re just like us. Everybody has a story.”
    Rogers hopes the inmates feel the love that God has for them through this service opportunity. She prays they come away knowing God’s love and that they are important to a caring, heavenly Father.

    Hard job
    Hinton said prison chaplains have a hard job. They have to help all the inmates with their religions, no matter their personal beliefs.
    “In the absence of the chaplains, the program personnel have stepped up to the plate as far as coordination of speakers and groups coming in so the inmates are still being served, but it’s being handled by folks who are more in the educational arm,” he said. “I don’t know how long that will last.
    They’re doing two jobs instead of one.”
    Chaplains supervise when Muslims meet as well as Wiccans. They have to find the materials for services. “The chaplains have to serve everyone,” Hinton said, no matter their personal beliefs.
    Hinton said the prison is a “unique environment.” Before this recent visit, Hinton said it never struck him that prisoners would get excited about trees.
    “It just caught me,” he said of his encounter with an inmate who had recently transferred. The inmate was so excited because from his cell window he could see trees.
    “It just gave me a little glimpse of what it feels like … not to have your freedom.”

    Ideas for getting ministry started

    • Request a guided tour of local jails/prisons
    • Contact the chaplain or program coordinator to discern needs
    • Provide paperback New Testaments in English and Spanish for inmates
    • Donate quality reading material for libraries
    • Tutor in English and reading
    • Share your prison ministry experience with your church and association
    • Ask your church or association to put your local jail ministry as a line item in its budget
    10/26/2011 3:24:36 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments
    Filed under: Johnston Baptist Association, Johnston Correctional Institution, North Carolina Baptists, prison ministry

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