Editors note: This article is part of a series on helping hands in the community.
While many area groups work to ensure the hungry are fed this holiday season, another group wants to feed the spirit of those paying their debts to society.
Walker County Jail Chaplain Steve Gregory, five area ministers and four female volunteers from the Rock of Ages Ministries on Dec. 17 conducted sermons at the jail and provided gifts for distribution to inmates. The group also delivered devotionals for distribution to inmates who requested them.
“I don’t know how society looks upon these people, but I know how the Lord does,” Gregory said.
Without passing judgment on the inmates — both those awaiting trial and those currently sentenced to the Department of Corrections — the evangelists shared Biblical scriptures, two of which were Psalm 23 and the story of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2.
The group split up to visit the different jail blocks, with female volunteers going to see female inmates. They entered the blocks accompanied by jail personnel and preached to inmates who wanted to hear the sermons. Some inmates chose not to participate.
The volunteers sought to offer the comfort of the scriptures and the opportunity to repent and to seek salvation; they said they heard 23 professions of faith during the services.
The jail ministry can help to satisfy a spiritual hunger among the inmates.
“I believe that many inmates are searching for a spiritual connection while incarcerated, the same way many of us on the outside of the jail walls do daily or weekly,” Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said.
”I have found that a majority of inmates who attend the Bible studies and worship services were exposed to a religious foundation as a child or teen,” Wilson explained.
Inmates look forward to the chaplain’s Bible studies and the weekly church services that are offered, he said.
”There is no way to know how many inmates have left the way of crime behind after being incarcerated at the Walker County jail, but I have to believe we have changed lives and planted many seeds,” he said.
Nourishing the spirit
“Sometimes a change in the heart after salvation is a life-long process,” Gregory said, noting that many of the inmates are serving long sentences. “God constantly works in our hearts to smooth rough edges to remake us in His image.”
Wilson said about 10 years ago, a young inmate who was assigned as a trustee confided in the sheriff that he and his family were going through a difficult time since his incarceration. The inmate attended the Bible studies with the chaplain.
”Before leaving my office, he asked me if I would pray for him,” Wilson said. “I was honored to do so. I have never forgotten that time and relate the story often.”
Gregory, a Rock of Ages employee, has been ministering to inmates at the jail for five years. He said he sought the opportunity to witness to inmates, to tell a clean joke or two and to leave them with a smile or a “little golden nugget.”
He appreciates the support he has received from Wilson, Maj. Mike Freeman and Capt. Philip Street, the jail administrator.
Rock of Ages provides inmates with Bibles and devotionals, and Gregory said he picks up eyeglasses at a dollar store for inmates who need them to read.
The ministry, based in Cleveland, Tenn., works in all 50 states, primarily in federal and state institutions, Rock of Ages President Terry Ellis said.
The ministry’s Discipleship Institute is free to inmates and their families, Ellis said. In addition to the prison chaplain program, the ministry has several other specialized ministries, including those targeted to juvenile offenders, women’s prisoners and military personnel, including military prisoners.
The ministry’s Character Under Construction program is taught in schools to teach character, morals and ethics, he said.
According to its website, Rock of Ages Ministries is dedicated to taking the gospel to prisons, educational institutions, military prisons and through its church-planting assistance program. Established on five continents, preaching the gospel and conducting discipleship classes on a daily basis, the ministry’s goal is to glorify God by taking the gospel to the entire world.