Jail ministry volunteers from Dale Baptist Association conducted a baptism service July 21 for 44 Dale County inmates who made salvation decisions through their effort.
The culmination of more than a year of prayer and planning, the service represented the efforts of 21 men and 15 women volunteers from nine churches of multiple denominations. Since the ministry’s beginning in May, there has been much fruit — 58 professions of faith in Christ, 12 rededications and many others who requested Bibles and study material, hungry for the word of God.
“The Holy Spirit is leading this ministry, and God gets all the glory,” said ministry coordinator Mike Whitt, pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Ozark. “This team gives all the glory to God for calling each one of us to this ministry and allowing us to see Him at work.
“I would like to thank the Dale County sheriff and the Dale County Jail staff for their commitment and support for this ministry. Without them [it] could not happen.”
Whitt recognizes that serving in jail ministry is a unique calling — one that has always been part of his pastoral ministry.
When he first met Jim Hill, Dale Association director of missions, he discovered they had a shared passion for jail ministry and the desire to begin one in Dale County, where Hill already was a jail chaplain.
The two began praying in mid-2021 about how to meet the need. The COVID-19 pandemic had halted an existing ministry, and a change in jail staff delayed the implementation of a new one.
In January 2022 Whitt and Hill met with Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson, who granted permission for a restart once the pandemic calmed down. The two also met with jailer Steven Baxley in the next few months, and volunteers began meeting with inmates in May.
They “put out the word, had a mass meeting and had background checks done on all participants,” Hill noted, and Whitt recalled seeing God’s hand working out every detail along the way.
“It cannot be overstated how we feel and see God’s involvement with this ministry,” he declared. “He opened the doors for this ministry that we could not open, and we give all glory to Him. It is a very humbling experience to be allowed to participate in God’s work.”
Once the path was cleared, ministry leaders invited association churches and other congregations to join in. Word spread quickly, and now each Thursday, volunteers conduct Bible study with prayer, offering a message and time of decision for men and women on six cell blocks. Each volunteer and church contributes time and resources like study materials and Bibles.
“When you go into jails [inmates are] starved for the gospel,” Whitt asserted. “And that’s been our experience here. God gave Jesus Christ a ministry, and He went where the people were.
“And I have always been convicted that you just don’t preach or minister to the folks who come to church — you’ve got to go where the people are. It’s not always clean, and it’s not always where it’s a comfortable place to be.”
Inmates seem hungry for God, Whitt added. Many who were baptized felt like the day would never come, thinking they wouldn’t make it through their particular challenges. Many resolved to move forward, to be different for Jesus.
One inmate, when asked about her number one need upon release, said, “The churches come and share with us and that is appreciated, but where are they when we get out? The only thing waiting for us when we get out is the streets, and we end up back where we were.
“Most of us do not want the streets, the drugs or to live that lifestyle, but we feel that we have no alternative right now when we leave jail.”
Ministry leaders currently are planning for an aftercare ministry, Hill noted.
“We are looking forward to taking the next step in the ministry for follow-up care after release from jail. This will also include steps to get those released involved in one of our local churches.
“The Word says that the fields are ‘white unto harvest,’” Hill added. “I praise our God for these who have gone to work in this field called jail ministry.
“Perhaps it is time for all Christians to ‘push away from the table,’ and let’s go to work in the field God has planted us.
“May God get all the honor and praise for the great things He is doing!”