C19 Prison Ministry Impact: Change of Pace and Venue

By Joel Van Sant, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Fort Dix, NJ

Over the past 6 months, I have experienced a lot of change at Fort Dix. At the beginning of the year, I was able to start and lead a program that helped inmates work through the spiritual struggle of pornography addiction. After advertising the class, we had over 70 inmates sign-up and participate. Unfortunately, a few weeks after starting the class, we had to temporarily stop the class due to Covid-19.

Chaplain Joel Van Sant

The past few months have had a different change of pace. Up until March of 2020, the chaplaincy department had been running at top speed. All of that slowed down in the middle of March. As the corona virus began to spread in our area, it was in the best interest of the inmates and employees to move to a modified movement schedule. During these months, we have not had any inmates in our chapel. Instead, we have had the opportunity to go to the housing units. This has been an unforeseen blessing. When the chapel was open, we were almost always doing ministry within the four walls of the chapel. Now we have opportunity to be a spiritual light in the housing units. While we are having an impact on the inmates, we are also able to invest and provide a sense of hope and peace to the officers in the units. It has been amazing to see how a dark situation can provide an avenue for God to work in the hearts of those on this compound.

One of the greatest blessings I have experienced over the past six months was Resurrection Sunday. As chaplains, we have not led any services in the units due to the CDC guidelines. Even though we were not leading services in the units, it was encouraging to hear that the inmates still observed and celebrated Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday in their respective housing units. I was so grateful to hear the news that the inmates were able to celebrate such a special time of year, despite the circumstances.

Though the ministry has changed over the past few months, I have had to remain flexible and realize that my ministry is truly a ministry of service. I continue to bring necessary items from the chapel to the housing units and cannot help but think of the words of Christ, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”

Please Pray:

I encourage you to keep our chaplains in prayer. During this pandemic, our style of ministry has changed from preaching and teaching to more one-on-one interactions. This has been a difficult transition for some of our chaplains.

Also, pray for our staff as they continue to provide safety and security during a very difficult time.

Finally, pray for our inmates who have struggled to be away from family during such a dark time in our world. The days get very monotonous for them.

Join us in praying for Chaplain Van Sant and our 200 other chaplains facing the challenges of the COVID19 pandemic. Despite the obstacles, Spirit-led creativity and persistence is yielding positive results around the world.

For more stories by and about our chaplains, visit us a www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy. For information of endorsement for chaplaincy, email Director Randy Brandt at chapbrandt@cbamerica.org.

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