Detention Center Chaplaincy :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Detention Center Chaplaincy

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While I was in graduate school, I encountered jail ministry for the first time. A friend and I drove to a jail an hour away on Saturday nights to preach, teach, and counsel. The Lord used that opportunity to prepare me for missionary work later in Europe. My wife and I served in Italy for 25 years.

As we were finishing up the ministry in Italy, thoughts about the future flashed through my mind—what next? The Lord brought back memories of those first steps of ministry at the jail 40 years earlier. Those thoughts kept coming back, so my heart became fixed on that type of work. 

At age 72, I volunteered at a detention center.

Upon returning to the USA, we moved to the Upstate in South Carolina. I met some men at the church we began attending who served as volunteers in a detention center. With their encouragement and counsel, I applied to become a volunteer on a weekly basis for two hours a week.

From the beginning the place felt like “home,” the place God had for me. COVID shut down this volunteer ministry for around a year. Then, due to unforeseen circumstances, the part-time position of chaplain opened up there, and I was encouraged to apply. Praise God, after the application, interviews, and background check, I was hired. My superiors, other workers, and the guards all patiently helped me find my way around the huge facility. Slowly I learned the directions around the four buildings and numerous floors. The other chaplain instructed me in the nuances, challenges, potential, and likely problems of the work. At age 72, I had to learn a new ministry trade! 

As far as particulars go, the ministry in Italy and the detention center work have little in common but this: God’s Word, salvation, people, and their need for the Lord. The cuisine is definitely different! 

Detention center ministry can be spiritually rewarding.

A detention center is not the same as a jail. It is a place where people await trial. Detainees may be in this facility for a period of a few days up to years. My work there consists in delivering books, literature, and Bibles to inmates who ask for them on kiosks that are available in every dorm/block. In the chaplain’s office we try to fulfill these requests from a donation supply. 

Often inmates request a visit from the chaplain to ask for prayer, advice, or counsel. While making deliveries, I am always stopped by other inmates who request prayer or a word of advice. In addition, I usually preach/teach in the various “pods” seven to eight times each week. Yes, I am allowed to preach the Gospel of repentance and to give admonition to change lifestyle and to live for the Lord. I also add the need for being in a church, finding a job, and living a clean, responsible life. In 2022, the Lord used this ministry to see literally dozens of inmates trust in the Savior. I hear questions such as “Can God save a sinner like me?” “How can I be saved?” “My life is a wreck; is there any hope?” Yes, many are ready for the Gospel and the truth of Christ as Savior.

Ministry also includes detention center workers.

The other chaplain and I also work with volunteers who minister two hours each on four evenings weekly. Occasionally, churches offer assistance to both detention center workers and inmates, and we pave the way for their efforts. One important objective in this ministry is readiness to help any of the center’s workers with spiritual needs.

Detention center ministry is physically and spiritually demanding.

As time passes in this ministry, challenges increase. The work is unique. It is physically and emotionally demanding. I stand or walk the entire time on the job. Questions fly continually. There is great sadness as I see so many heart-wrenching situations that require solid Bible answers. I must continually search God’s Word for His responses. My prayers go up to His throne without ceasing, for without Him I can do nothing. This ministry has stretched me and changed my outlook and understanding of life.

Getting started in the harvest field of correctional facilities.

If you are considering this type of ministry, where should you begin? If you are not already serving in an evangelistic ministry, don’t try to start out with detention center or jail ministry as your first opportunity! Begin with a small and less demanding work. Learn, grow, and pray. Then ask around for those involved as volunteers, and begin with them. The harvest field in a detention center or jail may be the place for you. May the Lord lead your steps.

“Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20, KJV).