Partnerships Enhance Jail Ministries
Posted on December 21, 2023 by Jon Trotter
By Skip Tobin
My mornings are marked by some very clear priorities. I feed my chickens and survey my garden. It is love that draws me to the garden. Do the peppers need more water? Are there suckers that need to be removed from the tomatoes? Are the beet seedlings going to make it this time? Is the kale up yet? What new things are happening to which I should be attentive?
In the same way, as the Ministry Coach for USA workers, I am always asking myself: God, are you doing something new that I need to notice and support? The answer is yes. My eyes have been opened to God’s movement within our local prison and to the energy and dedication of many servants of God throughout our community who are faithfully on mission with God on behalf of the incarcerated.
I was surprised last month when more than 20 leaders showed up for Chaplain Baker Rigg’s jail partners meeting. During the introductions we heard from Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Methodists, Mennonites, and more—all of whom conduct regular ministry in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail. Some have memories of visiting the old jail building which has been gone for 25 years!
These volunteers were very grateful when VMMissions helped facilitate the placement of Jason Wagner as prison chaplain in 2017. When Jason transitioned to a role at a larger prison, there was great concern for his replacement: Could God provide another gifted chaplain to serve in this field that they knew so well was ready for harvest?
I began to meet with this group and we began to pray together, something that as far as I know had never been done before. God has answered our prayers in providing Baker Rigg, who has begun serving in a half-time role as a VMMissions worker.
At that partners meeting, I watched folks lean forward eagerly to catch every word as Baker described the growing desperation for God which he is observing among the inmates as he shares the gospel. We heard from some of the volunteers that they too are also noticing the same desperation. Baker described what he sees every Sunday night as different local church groups lead packed out services. He reported on his efforts to train new volunteers to meet the jail’s protocols. He shared how he is unable to keep up with the inmate requests that are stacking up to see him week by week.
The part of the hour-long meeting that was most special was our prayer time. It seemed as though our corporate requests were held together and lifted up to heaven, as men and women, energized by Jesus’ own words, asked the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest field. With one voice we also asked the Lord to provide for Baker’s financial needs so that his service could increase to full-time.
This sense that the Spirit wants to heal and empower those who are incarcerated is still increasing. We have a vivid example in VMMissions worker Nathan Carr. At this partners meeting, he boldly shared his story of how as an inmate six years ago he had met the resurrected Lord. He shared how the former VMMissions jail chaplain Jason Wagner had walked with him from the shame and loneliness of incarceration into a new kind of life and community! Nathan told of others who have been recently baptized in prison. Nathan’s dream of opening a recovery house is taking shape!
This is a relatively new field for us at VMMissions. We are being invited to take our place among partners. We have the privilege of supporting what God is doing across denominational lines as we pray together and work in a field that is not far away but at our very doorsteps. Here are people who are ready to be found, and who once found, will not keep quiet! What beautiful things are growing in this particular garden!