Defining Success

How do you define successful Jail Ministry in 2018?

by Rev. David Robinson, Executive Director and Elmwood Jail Facility Chaplain

Recently, at one of our church outreach events, we were approached by an enthusiastic young woman who had heard our jail ministry presentation. She was responding to our invitation to volunteer and was thrilled about the opportunities. We asked her why she wanted to participate and she responded that she had been in jail, and while there had been deeply affected by our ministry.

Why would anyone want to go back to jail voluntarily, much less, be excited to do so?

We listened closely to her story of being addicted and abused, and of hitting bottom while in the jail. In her despair, she met some of our wonderful CIC volunteers in a worship service. She heard the joyful music, the gentle words of affirmation and cried tears of relief, knowing that God is present. She requested to be seen by our chaplains and marveled at the love and compassion she was offered. She caught a glimpse of what it meant to be respected by our volunteers and through this, what it felt like to experience being loved by our Lord, just as she was. The Spirit inspired her to see true hope, new life, and possibilities that she had never thought attainable. She got out of jail, began the recovery process and joined one of our embracing congregations. They brought her into fellowship, accepted her and guided her in her relationship with Jesus. She heard the Word and felt called to give back the love shown her with a passion that exemplified her gratitude. This encounter blessed us all.

We are often asked about our success stories and our effectiveness, but sometimes it is hard to quantify or even describe what it’s like to be with a hopeless person, to hear the pain and struggle, and define how this is effective ministry. Often, we don’t see the person again nor receive any positive report. But, both the chaplain and the inmate know how important the encounter is for the person’s healing and being respected by as child of God. The success is easy to see when one of our former parishioners gets clean and sober, goes to seminary and is called to a local congregation, and remembers those still in jail.

"Our volunteer chaplains wonder at how the Spirit is using them as instruments of Grace. They keep coming into this hellhole we call jail or juvenile hall, they see and experience the chaos...they serve and love people who many condemn. "

Our effectiveness can be seen in the spiritual walk of our volunteer chaplains as they wonder at how the Spirit is using them as instruments of Grace. They keep coming into this hellhole we call jail or juvenile hall, they see and experience the chaos, but walk empowered by the Lord God Almighty. They serve and love people who many condemn. They see Jesus in the least of our brothers and sisters. They have heard the Call, responded in faith and can see how valued they are by us and the inmates.

This is successful and effective ministry. I saw this valuable ministry in a brother who came to my office with an armful of academic commentaries and systematic theology books with a smile of his face. We had given him the books, donated to the jail by one of our churches. He was getting out the next day. I told him to keep the books and take them home. He said no, that he’d read them, learned a lot and wanted another brother to experience the same joyful hope of Gospel. Wow!

Another sign of effective ministries can be seen in our services; men and women of all colors, denominations and cultures gather as one fellowship. Given all the racial strife inside, this is a huge blessing. Through the love of God and faithful response, cultural norms are being dropped; they are respecting and sharing their hearts and souls with one another, with God and even with us. This is why I am so honored to be part of CIC Ministries now for 33 years.

Peace,

David Robinson