The Orange County Jail Ministry started as a small group of individuals in 1930. Today, there are more than 500 volunteers, 39 chaplains, and 63 church partners, as well as all those who support the ministry with prayers and donations. It is because of this support that we can provide more than 312 church services each month. We also offer correspondent Bible studies, one on one counseling, and Bibles to all the inmates who request them. The church services provide an opportunity for the inmates to come to the Lord and be blessed by the volunteers giving their testimonies as well as being ministered to with praise and worship music. This truly gives them an opportunity to make life changing decisions that will affect them when they are released and for the rest of their lives.
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A Letter from one of our Chaplains:
What Going into the O C Jail Has Done To My Life
Have you ever exchanged gifts with someone and been surprised by how perfect, full of love and thoughtfulness was the gift you received; how the gift kept on giving and touched your soul for many years? That is what the gift God gave me has done. I started going into the Orange County jail system out of duty, and as a gift to the inmates and I have received in return a gift from God that has changed my life and has not stopped affecting my daily walk. I am a changed man because of going into the jails.
I started going into the jails about eight years ago. Karen, a woman in our church, had been involved in a jail ministry and she wanted to start one in our church. She put fliers in the bulletin and announced sign-ups from the pulpit. I did not sign up. I was interested but lazy. A few weeks after the sign-up, I was talking to Karen and I brought up the subject about the jail, it was as if I had broken a dam and out flowed this excitement about going to jail. [That’s right, an excitement about going to jail.] I had to stop the flood so I asked if she needed any help. You know I am humble and proud of it, so I told her I could come and just pray as others led the service. She said okay. I went to the orientation meeting and applied for my clearance. I then received my badge and was ready to go to jail.
I remember the fear of that first night. What was it going to be like? What was the jail like on the inside? Were they going to strip search me? How would I react? As we sat out in the main lobby waiting for permission to enter the jail, we prayed for the service and discussed what each person was going to do. Karen asked if I could share my testimony and a little scripture. As we waited, time was slowed to a crawl. It took an hour for ten minutes to go by. I was sweating; I was nervous; I was ready to go home.
Then this tall and in charge, don’t mess with me woman, chaplain walked in. My first impressions of this woman were and still are correct; as I have gotten to know her I not only confirmed that she is indeed a very strong woman, but also a rock in her faith. She believes in Jesus and in the power of the Gospel to save and change lives. She is on a mission to rescue the hurt and dying in the jail system. I also discovered a love that is both strong and gentle. I would trust her with loving and sharing the Gospel with anyone. She is wise, beautiful, strong, loving, and my sister.
We were given permission to enter the jail. The chaplain led us through heavy, sliding, steel doors to a guard station where were given visitor badges. She then led us into the bowels of the jail. As we walked down a hall lined with heavy steel doors, with a pair of tennis shoes at the base of each door, I realized that the doors were solitary confinement cells and the shoes belonged to the women who were locked inside. A chill went down my spine when I saw the shoes, and knowing that in each cell a woman was locked inside. We turned a corner and the building opened up into the main entrance of a jail module. A module is a large room shaped like a pie with six slices of the pie being two story stacks of two person cells. The other pieces of the pie are used for exercise, class rooms and the solitary cells we had just passed. In the center of the pie is a glass sided deputy tower in which officers watch all that goes on. There were no surprises, we did the service, the women responded and I did not faint. It was a great night and the beginning of my going into the jails.
I started to do the teaching and after a few years was asked if I would become a chaplain. I said yes and have had my life changed in many ways. The single most profound change in my life happened after teaching a bible study in the Theo Lacy Jail.
That evening I was assigned to teach a bible study. When you go into a module you do not know who is going to come to a church service or bible study, so I have learned to ask the men a few question to find out where they are at with God and why they came to the service. One evening, I found myself with six men; two tweekers (meth addicts), two dopers (heroin addicts), and two thieves. The men had come just to get out of their cells. Many times the men find themselves in their small two man cells for twenty two hours at a time and any relief is welcome even if it means going to church.
These men did not know anything about the Bible or why Jesus had died on the cross. We had a great time. There was an air of excitement and light heartedness. I told them about how the Bible is laid out and about its purpose. I told them about Jesus and what He did. I told them that Jesus is the answer to their sin problems and to the problems they face in life. Before I knew it the hour had passed as if it were ten minutes. We had a great time. As the men left the classroom, one turned back to me and said, “I am going to prison for seven years tomorrow. I am a heroin addict. This Jesus-- even me?” It was as if someone had handed me a fifty pound bag of sand. What a heavy question! You know as well as I do the answer is,” yes”, and I answered him,” yes”, he smiled and walked away.
I will never forget that night. The question and the answer is obvious to both you and me, but what struck me, what glued my feet to the floor was that when I answered him, I realized that the answer was yes to my problems as well as to his. I had been a Christian for a while and I knew that Jesus was the answer, but that night the answer sunk to the core of my understanding. If I could say that Jesus is the answer to a heroin addict, then I had to say that Jesus is the answer to my every problem. He is the answer to the problems that crop up in my marriage, my work and anywhere I go.
I am changed. To look someone in the eye and tell them that Jesus is the answer, I have to, not only believe it, but I have to live it. That man’s question will never leave me and I will be forever changed by it. I warn you; do not go into the jails and talk about Jesus unless you are ready to have your world turned upside down and be challenged to your very core of understanding.
Is Jesus the answer to only really big problems and questions or is he the answer to all of our questions and problems? What do you think? What do you live?