Loving our neighbors in jail
Posted on June 15, 2017 by Jon Trotter
Jason Wagner, appointed to serve as chaplain at the Rockingham Regional Jail. Courtesy photo
By Jason Wagner
I have seen firsthand the deep hunger for connection to God and loving fellowship that inmates have in the Rockingham Regional Jail.
Since being appointed as a VMMissions worker to serve as jail chaplain, I have been introduced to the inside, and to the lives of many men who are serving sentences there.
During communal prayer times in the weekly meetings I attend, the men often think of life outside of jail, hoping God will keep their families and loved ones in their absence. Seeing this glimpse inside has made it so I can no longer simply pass by the jail without thinking of the names and faces of the men living there. These relationships have invited me to slow down and take notice of the many spiritual and physical needs.
I hope the awareness of these needs is what the chaplaincy position can bring to churches in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, along with a desire and commitment to work together in a tangible way toward meeting these needs.
The vision for the Rockingham Regional Jail chaplaincy began with pastors Jason Gerlach, of Community Mennonite Church, and Ben Risser, of Ridgeway Mennonite Church, who have served as voluntary chaplains for more than 10 years. The two pastors were encouraged by Virginia Mennonite Conference’s Harrisonburg District to contact VMMissions about a possible assignment. Because of the need and the lack of state funding for a chaplain, the Rockingham Regional Jail was also very interested. Those involved in the conversations created a Jail Chaplain Reference Council and a Ministry Support Team (MST) for my assignment.
As we raise funds for the position, we are sharing the vision of what will be involved. The half-time position will serve two broad roles, inside and outside the jail.
The first will be working with the prisoners and the many ministers and ministries that come in and out of jail. We long to see more prisoners hearing the Good News about Jesus and his life-changing love. For this to happen, I will seek to create additional Bible studies and devotional times for the prisoners to engage in, along with connecting prisoners to their local ministers and providing one-on-one pastoral care for those who request it.
Secondly, the responsibilities of the position will involve being a resource to ex-inmates re-entering the community, connecting them with churches equipped to minister to them, and connecting them with services to support them. I will seek to raise awareness in the local churches of the specific needs and challenges which prisoners face as they head back out into the community. It is our prayer that all these labors inside and outside of the jail will impact the many lives who have come through the jail.
As a member of my MST prayed at the conclusion of a recent meeting, quoting from 1 Corinthians 1:28, “We pray that God would use the things that have been brought low and despised to bring about his glory so that no one might boast in his presence.” That is also my desire.
Jason Wagner is an appointed VMMissions worker currently raising support for his jail chaplaincy assignment.