Christian Jail Ministry volunteers spend time with inmates

Neighbors

December 21, 1998|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THIS HOLIDAY season, neighbors are giving their presence to others.

Volunteers offer help to inmates at Christian Jail Ministry in Jessup.

Chaplain Guy Nichols credits Dr. Dale Pace, a Columbia resident, with the success of the Christian ministries there. Pace has recruited community members to work with the ministry.

Bill Heintzelman, a semiretired food broker and resident of Dorsey's Search, was dining at Kings Contrivance with his wife, Shirley, and Pace and his wife.

Over dinner, Pace explained that inmates with no community support have a rearrest rate of 62 percent.

With Christian support in the community, the rate dropped to 16 percent, he said.

When Heintzelman heard this, he decided to get involved. He spent two hours each week for four months preparing to work one-on-one with an inmate.

He has been paired with a 45-year-old man who has been incarcerated for 15 years.

Heintzelman is not allowed to give presents or money to the inmate -- only advice, love and caring.

He has included his inmate in the prayer chain at his church, and tries to be a role model in his partner's life.

This year, Heintzelman has helped organize the Gifts We Bring Program at Glen Mar United Methodist Church. The congregation donated money and toiletries to fill 86 Zip-loc bags for Christian Jail Ministry.

Each bag contained five religious booklets, a bottle of shampoo, two bars of soap, deodorant, a large tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush and a washcloth. The church occasionally also provides clothes.

Geneva Joyner, a resident of Guilford and member of Community Baptist Church in Jessup, first met Pace when he sat next to her at a sports banquet to honor Hammond High School athletes -- among them, her son Rodney.

As the wife of Charlie Joyner, then associate pastor at Community Baptist Church and now deceased, she was deeply involved in volunteer work.

Pace asked her if she had thought about volunteering at the jail.

No, Joyner said, she never had.

She started 15 years ago, and Joyner says she "just got hooked."

Joyner initiated a program to provide gifts for children at Christmas on behalf of their mothers who are incarcerated.

Volunteers purchase, wrap and deliver gifts to the child's guardian in the name of the parent.

The gifts give the children a chance to say, "Look what my Mom sent me" to friends or neighbors.

The program, which has expanded to include men, closes the gap while parents are away and gives the child something to hold on to until their parents return.

This year, Ann Dutra, a member of Chapelgate Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City, is coordinating the gift drive while Joyner cares for elderly family members.

Participants from eight churches -- including Chapelgate and Bethel Presbyterian in Ellicott City and Community Baptist in Jessup -- are involved in helping 90 children.

Dutra had been a member of First Presbyterian Church when she was first asked to lead a worship service for women at the jail about 15 years ago.

Now she meets individually with women at the jail for weekly Bible study. Many are frightened, lonely and depressed when they arrive at the detention center.

In the hard circumstances of the jail, "It's the time that they have to learn about God's love and forgiveness for them that changes their lives," she said.

Nichols says that during visiting hours, the lobbies are among the saddest places in the jail. Family members look at each other through thick Plexiglas.

It can be a heart-wrenching experience, he said.

A long night

Tonight at 7: 30, Glen Mar United Methodist Church will hold a brief worship service titled "The Longest Night."

The service is designed to allow people to acknowledge their grief and offer the assurance of God's presence in the midst of their pain, said senior pastor Andy Lunt.

This is the first year that the church is holding the service.

A member of the Wednesday morning Bible study group had described attending a similar service at another church. It touched a responsive chord among the other members.

Some folks are facing their first holiday without a loved one; others miss the presence of a loved one or are divorced, separated, far from family or seasonally depressed, Lunt said.

Ruth Bell, director of Caring Ministries, added that others have memories of difficult family times at the holidays.

She hopes the service will offer comfort to those people, too.

About 10 "Stephen ministers" -- church members who are trained to listen and provide emotional support for those in need -- are helping prepare for the service and a reception.

The church offers a cancer support group from noon to 1: 30 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. A Healing Hearts Group for those with serious heart disease is held from 11 a.m. to noon the third Sunday.

Next month, a divorce support group will resume meeting from 7 p.m. to 8: 30 p.m. first and third Tuesdays. Two men will assist Bell in leading this confidential group.

All groups are open to community members and are free.

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