Note: This is Part 3 of 3 in a series highlighting Foursquare’s prison ministry. To read Part 1 about Gladys Perez and Marc Anthony Colon, who found redemption after tragically killing Perez’ three-year-old daughter, click here.
While Sandra Sebesta, Foursquare prison chaplain at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, Calif., was drawn steadily into prison ministry, by contrast Foursquare pastors James (Floyd) and Carol Jordan, both in their 50s, never really thought about ministering to prisoners. Never thought much about inmates, either. They believed if prisoners needed to pay a price for what they had done and were paying it, then that was good.
That all changed about 10 years ago when Taft, where they live—a California oil town about two hours from Los Angeles—got a federal correctional institution. The Jordans didn’t know the life-changing impact the prison would have on them.
Floyd had planted a church in Taft—New Life Community Foursquare Church—in March 2003. The church’s youth building needed major repair. Carol, through her work at a local nonprofit organization, was knowledgeable about a federal prison program that permitted inmates in the system to do contract labor for nonprofits. When she facilitated a crew for New Life’s youth building, something surprising occurred: The prison ministry the Jordans never expected to have was born.
“My husband, others in the church, and myself have gotten to know these men over the years and have been able to speak into their lives,” Carol says. “Not just preach to them, but work on the job right along with them, to live the Christian life before them. Many of them have had a change of heart.”
The Jordans’ prison ministry is unique among other ones, in that it occurs outside the walls of confinement. The focus is on helping the men ready themselves for release back into society.
They prefer taking the approach of treating the men with respect and encouraging them, rather than only preaching to them. They celebrate inmates' birthdays, upcoming release dates and other big events, with cake included.
"We’re down to earth with them,” Floyd says. “New Life is a church with a mission of restoration. Our goal is, ‘Help Bring Healing to Hurting People,’ with love, forgiveness and acceptance through Jesus.”
The inmates work six-hour shifts for New Life, usually from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with lunch provided by the Jordans. The Jordans pick them up, along with a guard, in their church van.
Currently they get about four inmates in a crew about once a week. To qualify for a crew, prisoners must be nonviolent, disease-free, and have two years or less left on their sentences.
To participate in the federal furlough program, an organization must be a legal nonprofit.
“Many churches would not think about using someone from a prison at their church,” the Jordans say, but add that the rewards far outweigh the concerns. "Many men we have worked with have been released and are now reunited with their families. They leave us with the memories of hard-working men trying to make a difference in their lives; that the years they were in prison were not just doing their time but actually spent helping others.”
“Trying to make a difference” and “helping others” are phrases that describe well what Foursquare’s prison chaplains are all about, too. From the Jordans to Sebesta to Blomberg to Page—to the many others in the chaplaincy corps—they contribute their gifts and talents in unique ministries to inmates.
Some, like Blomberg and Sebesta, answered clear callings to prison ministry. Others, like Page and the Jordans, were almost startled to find themselves suddenly touching the lives of inmates.
Page, for example, had never gone to a jail to meet with an inmate before he petitioned authorities to let him visit Colon and Perez. “They were the first two [inmate] decisions I experienced for Jesus,” he says.
Meeting them in early 2006 “mysteriously defined” his ministry, he says. Inmates now are the only members of His Freedom Foursquare Outreach Ministry. “My entire congregation is incarcerated,” he notes.
He disciples them through Bible studies, church services and one-on-one face time at the jail. Since the time when he met Perez and Colon, he has counseled with more than 4,000 inmates in Las Vegas and witnessed close to 1,000 decisions for Jesus.
He personally hands out as many as 400 Bibles a month to the ever-revolving inmate population at CCDC, which numbers 3,500-3,800 on any day.
Page is well aware that real life doesn't adhere to the slogan “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” So he lives instead by the truth that what happens in Vegas, Jesus wants to change.
By: Jimmy Stewart, a freelance writer and journalist in Orlando, Fla.
This is part 3 of a 3-part story spotlighting some of the amazing people within Foursquare who minister to those in prison.
Part 1: To read more about how Gladys Perez and Marc Anthony Colon found hope even after being convicted of the murder of Perez’ daughter, click here.
Part 2: To read more about a Foursquare group that visited the ex-Soviet republic of Estonia—and had an unexpected visitor themselves, click here.