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One day with God - ministry to the incarcerated

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Early one Saturday morning, a group of Bandera County Christians willingly spent a day in prison. As the sun made its way over the eastern horizon, about a dozen locals made their way to Hondo to participate as volunteers in a special ministry to the incarcerated called a One Day With God camp.
The group joined volunteers from other churches in the area at a Hondo church. They signed in, put on their official name tags and T-shirts and received their assignments for the day.
Some of the volunteers would remain at the church, to spend the day with the wives, mothers, brothers and other relatives of almost 50 loved ones in the Torres Unit of the state prison system in Hondo who met the criteria and were chosen to participate by the prison officials.
The goal of the ministry is to allow prisoners a chance to spend a day with their children. Some of these men had never seen their children, and for many, this special day could very well be the only time they will ever see them, explained a ministry volunteer.
Scottie Barnes, founder of ODWG, believes that "incarceration does not diminish the responsibility of a parent." She grew up visiting her father in prison and as an adult, was led by God to start a ministry that would make a difference in the lives of those touched by imprisonment.
Barnes and her husband founded the One Day With God's program of healing and forgiveness as a part of Forgiven Ministry, Inc., headquartered in Taylorsville, North Carolina.
The program succeeds in part because of the willing service of many volunteers, like those from Bandera County, as well as generous financial support from donors to the nonprofit.
Areas of volunteer service include mentoring the inmate or the child, serving food, music or craft team, assisting with registration, helping with parking and transportation or being a mentor to the child's caregiver.
Forgiven Ministry staffers and experienced volunteers handle training and supervision of first timers.
Volunteers receive a list of practical do's and don'ts for their day of service inside the walls of the prison. Wear comfortable shoes, but no open toes; dress modestly; don't give an inmate your address or phone number; and don't bring in anything except photo ID and car key.
After the volunteers had registered, the children and their caregivers began to arrive. Mentors who had signed up to go to the prison with a child met their charges and spent a little time getting acquainted over breakfast before driving out to the Torres Unit. Kids and mentors buzzed with excitement about the meeting to come.
Prior to this important day, the "child and inmate parent are guided through a series of spiritually based events involving a mixture of relationship building and fun, designed to open a dialog and begin the process of healing and reconciliation. Both child and parent are prepared in advance for an event that is both structured and balanced," said the ministry website.
There were some tearful farewells between children and caregivers before things quieted down and a special program for the caregivers began.
Guest speaker Tynesha Lewis, a former WNBA player and graduate of NC State University, spoke about being honest with the children about their incarcerated parent, about family relationships, and feelings. "We all mess up," she said. She also told the caregivers to demand respect from their children. "You work too hard not to be respected!"
She spoke honestly about her own troubles and having to learn to rely on God. "Trust God to carry you through....God never quit on me, even in my failures, bad decisions and disobedience."
Lewis travels the country doing motivational speaking and projects to help kids through her nonprofit organization "Itsdoable Inc".
Another speaker to the caregiver group said, "When you cry out to God 'Why me?' He answers with, 'Why not you?'" he said, "Accept that attitude, that God has chosen you for a special purpose and He will be with you as you go."
Mothers, young and old; grandparents, aunts, brothers, all grew closer as the day went on. They shared their challenges and their wisdom, worshipped together, ate together, laughed and cried together. And they all prayed that their kids visiting the prison would be able to begin a healing relationship with their fathers.
The Forgiven Ministry vision is as follows: "Reaching, Reconciling and Restoring Lives is our purpose. By encouraging change from within the individual, we can reduce recidivism, stop the cycle of crime, avoid the waste of human capital and lessen the burden that offenders and their families place on society. Eighty percent of the children of incarcerated parents follow in the footsteps of that parent and end up in prison themselves. Preventing an at-risk child from turning to gangs, drugs, and crime is one of the most important ways to make our communities safe and productive for our children in the future."
The Forgiven Ministry says that "reconciling the inmates with their families and with God is the most promising way we see to bring about this change from within. Surrounding the inmates and their families with unconditional love from a supportive Christian community at the camps and in the follow-up programs can truly make a difference that to some would seem impossible. Forgiveness makes this reconciliation possible."
The One Day With God child and inmate camps have been enthusiastically supported by parents, children and prison officials.