USA Missions Has Successful Prison Ministry Conference

The 2017 Jail and Prison Ministry Conference brought a record number of 101 delegates to Cleveland, Tennessee, for their one-day conference on October 6. The delegates represented two pastors, one state USA Missions director, and a handful of departmental staff and leaders; but the majority were men and women whose calling from God is a Matthew 25:40, “Unto the least of these” calling to go behind jail and prison walls, sharing the love of Jesus with the incarcerated.

Church of God workers from twelve states interacted, shared and prayed together from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., both sessions conducted in the Leadership and Communications Center at the International Offices, and in an onsite service at the Bradley County Jail, attended by approximately 45 male inmates.

The announced keynote speaker, former mobster Frankie Palermo, was forced to cancel because of illness that led to his hospitalization, and Knoxville businessman Josh Smith was brought in as a replacement. Smith, a dynamic communicator, was also converted while serving time in prison, and then used his time of incarceration to study business and finance, coming out to establish his own basement water-sealing business. Over time, he has built MasterDry Systems of Knoxville into a $16 million a year business, and one of the largest of its kind in the nation. Smith shared his no-nonsense message of “turn it over to Jesus and let him turn your life around” with both the delegates at the conference and at the County Jail, where he was received with thunderous applause from the inmates.

Following the opening morning session that featured Smith, the format for the day took the form of panel-led open discussions. Sharing panel moderating duties were USA Missions Special Projects Coordinator James E. Cossey, and Jail and Prison Commission members, Cy Harris and Ronnie Hepperly. Discussion topics ranged from, “Reaching out to Juvenile Offenders,” and “Can Do’s and Can’t Do’s of Prison Ministry,” to “Pre-sentence Intervention for First-Time Offenders,” and “Dealing with Gangs.” The interactive format gave each delegate the opportunity to learn from others, and to give input to the conversation.

The delegates were greeted by General Overseer Timothy M. Hill, and by Second Assistant General Overseer J. David Stephens, the Executive Liaison to the Division of World Evangelization. Each executive leader offered commendation and thanks to the delegates for the unique ministry service they perform in the body of Christ. The morning devotional challenge was delivered by Bishop Mitchell Maloney, Director of USA Missions, and worship was led by Nate and Robin Ridgeway from the North Cleveland Church. The catered continental breakfast, break time snacks, and the noon meal were all provided courtesy of Bishop T. Wayne Dority and Pathway Press, the Church of God Publishing House.

A high point in the conference was during the service at the County Jail, when one of the jailors spotted two of our conference delegates who had been previous inmates in that facility. Turning to the conference moderator, the jailor exclaimed, “I know those two men! They’ve been in here! They need to testify!” And when they did testify, these two men—former prisoners, now transformed and serving in two different local Church of God congregations as outreach ministers—electrified the audience with their dynamic witness.

Following the event, veteran prison minister Ronnie Hepperly commented, “The conference was the best overall that I’ve attended or taken part in. Great information, discussions, speakers, testimonies, and of course, the jail service.”

Panel member Dr. Mary Washington, a former NYPD officer, is now a member of the New York State Parole Board. She wrote, “This conference was wonderful. I am still getting questions and reports of what is taking place in other areas. The format, the content, the location, the networking and resource tables were excellent.”

Retired police officer Danny Smith, coordinator of Jail and Prison Ministries for the North Georgia State Office wrote, “I believe that this year’s prison conference was one of the best I have been to. Everything was well done and very informative. Thanks for all the Church of God is doing in this area.”

The conference is a biennial (every two year) event sponsored by USA Missions. Cossey directs the conference, and also directs the day-to-day Jail and Prison Ministry of the Church of God, which is engaged in interactive communication with inmates, chaplains, and prison workers on a regular basis. The Special Projects Office serves as a clearing house and resource connection for pastors, state/regional offices, and local churches in facilitating their outreach to jails and prisons. For more information call the Special Projects Office at 423-478-7103, or email [email protected]

(Source: USA Missions)

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