I have never been arrested. I have never “had” to spend time in jail. I never wanted to be a chaplain to jail inmates. That is, until I got the call to go to the Butte County Jail and meet with a woman who attended on & off the Ev. Free Church in Richvale where I pastored. Roxanne, my wife, and I had spent many hours counseling and discipling her in our home, but her addiction was too strong for her to overcome by herself. She would disappear for months at a time, caught up in the drugs.
Finally, I got the call to visit her in jail. Tears ran down her face, but she was smiling. She said,
“Pastor, I tried so hard, but I just couldn’t beat it. So I prayed, ‘Please, God, do whatever it takes!’ And see, He did! Here I am!” She has been sober since that day, and she began leading her cellmates to Jesus, too. I led her friend, convicted of murder, to Jesus before she was sent away for a life sentence. The same with a farmer’s employee, who was also sent away for life. Before he left, he led his neighbor to Christ. And some of the inmates started studies and prayer times in their pods. I gave them study Bibles and concordances, and taught them how to use those tools to lead.
When it was time to move from Richvale EFC, I founded Ambassadors of Reconciliation Ministries (ARM), and began recruiting disciplers for the men and women in the jail. The jail only allows me to visit one inmate a day for an hour, and my list of inmates to visit has been as long as 70! If real discipleship is going to happen, it has to be by volunteers spending time with particular inmates each week. We use a Navigators curriculum to get deep in the Word, and visiting every week enables them to develop a caring and informed mentor/mentee relationship that God uses to change lives!
I collect donations of Christian books and provide them to the inmates. Many begin reading just to pass the time, but God works in their hearts! Those books make the words of some of the greatest Christian teachers in the world available to aching hearts and hungry minds behind those bars!
I also have developed relationships with leaders of recovery programs in Butte County, and I distribute a list of inpatient and outpatient addiction recovery and inmate re-entry resources to anyone in the jail who wants to contact them. I try to steer inmates into a supportive environment that will allow the body of Christ to grow them in the Word and in Christian service, and hold them accountable once they are released from jail or prison. Linda Reed, our Women’s Chaplain, spends a lot of time meeting with women in discipleship and recovery, trying to make life work after release.
ARM shares the Gospel of Jesus with two different groups of people Jesus addresses in Matthew 25:
First, we evangelize and disciple the inmates of the Butte County Jail. To help the “least of these” broken, hurting people is to minister to Jesus Himself. We seek to obey Jesus’ call to comfort and serve the poor, sick, widowed, orphaned, and imprisoned in Matthew 25. We have volunteers meeting inmates in their pods every Thursday evening, and one-on-one in the glass visiting area every weekday. Often, those volunteers follow their mentees after jail, writing them in prison, or helping them get established in local recovery programs, churches, and healthy relationships.
Second, we call the Church of Butte County, Jesus’ body, to respond with the same compassion and sacrifice that He Himself displayed as He gave Himself for us. Many have become complacent, comfortable, apathetic, cold-hearted, and disobedient, as Jesus described the goats in Matthew 25. ARM exists to make Jesus’ call clear and inescapable to those who call themselves by His Name. We become all He intended us to be as we open our hearts to those for whom He gave His life!
The fruit of ARM’s ministry is the transformed lives of inmates and their families, serving the kingdom of God around us. Many of our volunteers found faith in Jesus while they were in jail or in recovery, and are eager to give back. These are your neighbors, friends, fellow church members, even family!
If you’re hungry for more exciting stories of God’s faithful and even miraculous work in this unlikely place, please contact me, email@example.com or 990-5519. Maybe God is tugging at your heart!
Please pray for volunteers, participation with many churches, favor with jail officials, and many new visitors at the next Thursday evening jail visitor training on Mar 5. Applications are due by Feb 25!
Blessings to you all! Thank you for your prayers and support from all of us representing you at ARM!
Chaplain Ian Carlisle of ARM