My Teachable Moment

Prison MinistryRev. Jan Michael Nace, Th.D.

It happened to me on my way back from solitary confinement. I was ministering to a middle-aged prisoner whose son had been horribly assaulted by a predator. It nearly drove the prisoner insane. He had written me in the hope for someone to talk to. When I read his letter I had no choice but to go see him.

As I looked into his face as he related his story I detected a tear dropping off his chin. I was reminded even grown macho men have emotions. Especially when it comes to family. As I listened I waited to hear what God would give me to tell him. Finally, when he finished I told him “I will keep what you have told me in prayer for this next week and write you what the Lord shows me. But in the meantime I want you to grasp the truth that God is bigger than any life event, in fact, he is bigger than life itself. We need to hold on to that so we can hear from God.” He seemed to receive that message and show signs of hope. I will keep my promise. That is my policy. It has been my policy for 28 years and will never change. You see, I am a Prison Chaplain.

I have been a Prison Chaplain full time for 29 years. It is my parish. It is one of the richest environments anyone would hope to work in. It is not for everyone. But it is for some like me. At least for now.

 

So as I was walking back from the solitary confinement quarters with its grim reminder of the forgotten, I reviewed my ministry there. So often I had said to my wife “I long for a ministry [after 29 years] on the outside.”  Being full time in prison work removes you from society, and among the forgotten. Life goes on outside but stands still on the inside in many ways. You watch men get older but don’t see their circumstances change. It is like frozen time. You never seem to go into the future.

So as I was reviewing my ministry inside I thought of the conversation I had just had with this gentleman in solitary. I wondered who would have visited him if I had not arrived. He told me he had written over 15 people to come see him and I was so far the only response he had. When I heard that I was reminded why I was in there – in prison ministry.  I was a lifeline of hope.

And then I reflected on a recent ministry opportunity I had which would take me out of the prison ministry if I was chosen for ministry in an outside community setting. It was what I had been dreaming of for years. But suddenly I could not get this gentleman out of my mind. And I learned something important. I learned where I belonged in ministry.

I realized I belong in ministry where I am most needed. Where I have a burden for the people I serve and they receive genuine ministry from me. This burden takes the form of being pulled toward ministering to God’s place of ministry and the needy people awaiting His ministry and seeing God use me in ministry in that space. It is like a marriage. God puts us together with the people we belong with and are matched best with to serve and do life together with. And then he wonderfully works his Presence in and through us.

I began to wonder if the people in the other ministry I had applied for needed me as much as these prisoners, even after all these years. I wondered who would take care of the prisoners if I left and was successful obtaining the new job. And it caused me to come to an uncomfortable conclusion: Serve where I am placed and being used of God now, even if it is tedious, tiring and difficult, until he moves me to my next place.

It may or may not be the location of my application for another ministry.

I would know soon. And then the process of walking by faith will continue. In the meantime I continue to serve one of earth’s neediest congregations. Men who are isolated from their families, loved ones, and society. Not perfect men. Some are Forgiven men. All are Needy men. Most all are Forgotten men.

Funny how a walk back to my office after touring solitary can give me thoughts like this and bring eternal perspective. But that’s what happened. As we interact with people who are in need God is there with us, at work, a theological moment. And when it is over we become aware of the fact that we have just had a teaching moment. A moment when heaven reached us, caught our attention, and gave us some important detail to think about.  Just when we least expected it. But always on time.

As it turned out I didn’t get that other job. And maybe that’s all it was–a job. Whatever the case, I am still in Prison ministry but with new perspective. I have accepted that this is where I belong. It does not carry the excitement of a new location, but it carries the familiarity of an old friend. I have come to see the advantages of both sides. The familiarity of the old, with the people that know me, and my ever-increasing influence where I minister. The excitement of the new, or possibly temptation of the new, creating a tension with the timing to leave the old. And in the middle of it all my age which is passing mid- 60s.

This has been a lesson in grace on many levels.  Seeing God minister after all these years, even in my older years, after walking prison hallways and walkways for nearly 30 years, has a blessing of its own. Seeing prisoners relate to me, especially the younger ones, is a blessing as well like when recently a younger prisoner said to me, “Rev, you still got it going on!” Feeling the soothing Presence of God as I walk the grounds of one of the largest prisons in the Northeast beings a satisfaction unmatched by a newer job or location, with its adjustments, its new people, and learning curves. Yes, God has been good. And His grace has been real. I’ve tasted it over and over.

Now it’s time to sink my roots deeper. Deeper into the soil of corrections and the people whose lives (staff and offenders) populate the landscape of corrections. It’s time to listen more, listen closer, look at the faces of those passing my paths, and silently asking the questions of what is going on in their lives underneath the exterior. Taking a prophetic stance when needed and speaking from the years of experience into the present life of this system called incarceration. And risking the consequences for that stand in some cases. And what shall I say?

Prisoners are people. Real people. With families. With feelings. With hopes and dreams. With scars. With fears. With institution issues in some cases. But didn’t Jesus tell us in Matthew 25 that He was in prison and we visited Him there? Is that the magnetic pull I feel toward prisoners – the explanation of Scripture – that Jesus Christ is with them in this place? Has that changed since the Bible was written? No, the Gospel commands us to go beyond our comfort zone and minister to the needs of the dispossessed. So that’s where I am. And that’s where I have been called. And that’s why I’m there. And that’s where I will stay. And that is where God will find me. And this humble experience has settled the comfort issue for me once for all. It’s more important to be where we are called that be where we want to call ourselves.

And so I invite you to take another look at your ministry and ask yourself the question: “Is Jesus there?”  And if he is, it may not be comfortable, but it will be where you are called, and most importantly, it is where God will be found and working. Does anything else matter?

On the Road Again

New AndyDirector’s Travel Update: “On the Road Again…”

My summer travels have taken me to California, Arizona, D.C., Maryland, Washington and Oregon to visit chaplains, attend the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Academy and attend Regional Network meetings.  At the Network meetings I presented updates on chaplaincy to assembled pastors, elders and lay men and women.  I also visited with area chaplains and candidates, and met with others considering chaplaincy as a career or volunteer path.

In August I attended the Navy Senior Leader Symposium (SLC) Endorser’s Day in the DC area.  Along with other endorsers, I received updates on Navy chaplaincy issues, and had opportunity to meet with Navy Chief of Chaplains, Rear Admiral Maggie Kibben, and her deputies for Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard chaplaincies.  I found it helpful to have shared presenter duties with the Navy Chief in years past.  We both did “exciting” tours in Afghanistan.  Relationships matter.

In September, I flew to Seattle, for a NW visit.  I met with Navy chaplains working with CREDO and at an Air Wing, at Oak Harbor and Whidbey Island, respectively.  Both ministries are strategic and fruitful, and exciting to follow.  Lunch with an Army Chaplain stationed at JBLM was an encouragement, as was an evening visit with an Oregon Guard/Hospice chaplain’s family in the Vancouver, WA area.  It seemed like I spent my time driving and eating.

11-13 September was invested in spending time and ministry with seven other CB chaplains at the NWCB Men’s Roundup in Central Oregon and a gathering of 1500 men!   For a second year, we “camped” in a Yurt near the Meadow Ridge Pavilion – a great facility with shower and toilet facilities.  Not only did we benefit from the food, fellowship, worship and teaching times, but our chaplains led two workshops of chaplain ministries, and one on “PTSD and Moral Injury and Healing,” with testimony from a Vietnam Vet ministered to by Chaplain Gary Cowden, Chief of Chaplain Services at the Puget Sound VA Medical Center.  Over 100 men, mostly vets, attended our sessions and “Walks with a Chaplain,” throughout the weekend.  My hat’s off to Chaplains Dave Lundell, Gordon Ruddick, Adam Kawaguchi, Paul Castillo, Brad West, and Gary Cowden for sharing their ministries and taking time to interact with a number of inquisitive and hurting men.  For those interested in attending the Men’s Roundup, check out http://mensroundup.com/ for more information on next year’s event.

Final Word:

Please accept my special thanks for your cooperation and assistance during these first nine months of my tenure as director of chaplaincy.  I will need even more grace as I transfer data from my old laptop to this new one I’m using right now.  My old laptop picked up a bad virus and I decided it was time to replace it.  My cloud backup seems to be working, but I am struggling to find a few files…they’re probably in there somewhere.

Latest word from Chaplain Al Russell is that a recent cardiac scan went well, and he’s hitting on all cylinders.  He and Carol are enjoying traveling and are having fun with their new Smart Car.  They send their greetings to all.  My wife, Myra and I plan to visit them mid-October, pick up some remaining files and visit an area supporting church.

I had the honor of laying to rest two Korean War veterans this past quarter; one an Army ordinance officer, the other a Navy diesel boat submariner.  On the way back from Ft. Logan National Cemetery, I stopped by the Colorado National Guard Headquarters to get my final retirement photo taken.  My goal is to stay physically fit enough to wear my uniform for such duties so that I might be a “chaplain for life,” and a “player-coach!”

Be aware of our continued prayers for you, your family and your ministry.  Knowing how to pray really helps keep us “on target.”

In your corner, on my knees!

Andy Meverden
Director of Chaplaincy
CBAmerica.org/chaplaincy
303-263-1675
chapandy@cbamerica.org

The Beginning and the End

AndyThe Board of CBAmerica (of which I am now a functioning member) recently went through the process of updating our Mission Statement.  What we agreed upon was: “CBAmerica champions Great Commission fulfillment through its regional networks.”  At the national level we saw this focus carried out through our eight regional church networks and, likewise, through our network of chaplains.  We came to the realization that we didn’t have eight regional networks, but nine, including chaplaincy.

In a similarly comprehensive way we crafted our new Vision Statement: “Gospel-centered congregations transforming every community.”  Like churches, many chaplains lead and develop groups of believers in military units, chapels, prisons, hospitals and other unique settings.

Then we settled on three Values: Congregational Health, Congregational Multiplication and Leadership Development, all focused on reproducing disciples, leaders and congregations.  This fits well with the variety of chaplaincy ministries, most of which have strong components of evangelism and discipleship.  

So, back to the title of this article, the “Beginning and the End.”  It comes from the Book of Revelation where it is found three times:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”  (Revelation 22:13-14 (NIV)

CBAmerica chaplaincy champions Great Commission fulfillment through the ministry of its 160 chaplains serving in paid and volunteer positions, in hospitals, prisons, hospices, police and fire departments, and among veterans groups, wounded warriors, motor clubs and other specialized ministries, across the US, and on military bases, posts, camps stations, and ships literally around the world.  A wide variety of contexts, but all fulfilling the Great Commission.

This report of our newest military chaplain Lt. Roy Fondren, assigned to the Marines, highlights how the newer generation approaches outreach.

But outreach and evangelism are not simply for the young and healthy.  “Retired” hospice chaplain, Jim McMillan, who planned to take it easy in a Florida retirement community, found a new ministry in an old, familiar setting. Both of these chaplains epitomize the Mission, Vision and Values of CBAmerica.  No one is too young or too old for the Gospel!

If you are interested in pursuing a ministry in chaplaincy, check out our website at www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy for more stories from chaplains.  There you will see that our focus is Gospel ministry, “Beginning to the End!”

Finally, here is a link to the brochure of CBAmerica’s Director of Chaplaincy, “Ecclesiastical Endorsement: What it is, What it is not, How Long it takes.”

 

Chaplain for Life: Rev. Jim McMillan

 

Hospice ChaplainI recall an interview where Evangelist, Billy Graham was asked when he would retire.  The essence of his brief reply was, “Well, I don’t find the word ‘retirement’ in the Bible.”  As I write this, Rev. Graham is still actively reaching others for Christ well into his 90s.

So is Rev. Jim McMillan, CBAmerica chaplain, who retired from hospice ministry on April 30, 2014.  After moving to Florida, Chaplain Jim, like Rev. Graham, found that he couldn’t just sit around and “enjoy a well-earned retirement,” while people were dying and going to a Christ-less eternity. Instead, he looked around and found a new ministry he could pursue; serving as interim chaplain with Cornerstone Hospice.  Jim tried to use the new CBAmerica web-based electronic chaplain ministry report, but it wouldn’t work for him (Has that ever happened to you?).  Not to be deterred from reporting in, he printed his report, and mailed it the “old fashioned way.”  What Jim shared warmed my heart. “I had the privilege of baptizing a patient who had wanted baptism, but no one was available to do so.”  I understand Jim discovered that therapeutic whirlpools have a good secondary religious purpose.  “It was a God-appointment.”  Who better than a seasoned chaplain to recognize God’s hand!  ” I also was able to help a retired West Point grad reconnect with his faith shortly before his death.”  Jim’s words remind me of Romans 4:14: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”  Chaplain Jim inspires me.

He closed his ministry report requesting prayer for: “Continued opportunities as I serve as a spiritual care volunteer.”  Will you join me and pray for Chaplain Jim, and the dozen or so hospice chaplains ministering under CBAmerica?  Pray that they would be alert and available to the Spirit’s leading to hearts ready for the Gospel.

If you sense God’s call into professional or volunteer hospice chaplaincy, and would like information on how to secure an “Endorsement” for this or other chaplaincy ministries, click this link to CBAmerica’s Director of Chaplaincy for a brochure, “Ecclesiastical Endorsement: What it is, What it is not, How Long it takes.”  

Andy Meverden
Director of Chaplaincy
CBAmerica
O: 720-283-3030
C: 303-263-6175
3686 Stagecoach Rd, Unit F
Longmont, CO 80504-5660

Officer on Deck!: Oh Wait, It’s Just the New Chaplain!

Roy F

That’s probably what the Chief Petty Officer called out, as the strapping new officer with five rows of ribbons entered the building.  From a distance, the color and prominence of his 14 awards indicated that an experienced officer was approaching.  But as he got closer, the Chief relaxed when he saw the silver cross on his lapel opposite his rank.  I’m sure Chaplain Roy Fondren, a former US Marine line officer, now dressed in the Navy tan uniform, stuck out his hand and offered a firm handshake and a broad smile.  I can imagine everyone in the office watching as he was led to his office at his new, first assignment at Naval Air Station at Whiting Field in Milton, Florida.  Roy, his wife, Megan (herself for former Marine Staff Sergeant with 12 years active duty) and children, settled into their new lodging, as Chaplain Roy familiarized himself with his new assignment.  When asked to share his greatest blessing in his first ministry report, Roy wrote:

“Being used to lead three people to Christ. One in a counseling session and two at Chapel. In addition to the salvations, just the simple fact that when people come into my office, in a sense, they walk into the Gospel Den!  Because, by God’s grace, there’s NO WAY they’re going to leave without getting the Gospel message during their counseling! The big fear is Chaplain’s not being able to say “Jesus” at the end of a public prayer…but you know what, the day-to-day interactions and Light Shining of Christ I do is more effective than a singular prayer for a retirement that ends in Jesus name…when reality is, most people are just thinking about refreshments after the prayer. The GOSPEL IS GETTING OUT!!”

When asked what his prayer concerns were, his response was equally enthusiastic: “My ability to not be swallowed in Ministry. Meaning, I LOVE THIS STUFF, yet with 2400 people on this base and two Chaplains, the work is ABUNDANT!  So, it’s hard to NOT work late hours…which reduces family time.  So my prayer request would be for a healthy balance.”

In his first few weeks he was able to perform: “4 Worship Services, 1 Bible Study, and report 3 people receiving Christ.”  Oh wait, but that’s not all, when I replied to his report with affirmation and a word of caution with regards to balance between ministry and family, he almost immediately responded back to me:

“SIR!!  NO LIE!!!  ANOTHER Fella JUST came to Christ via Individual Counseling! PLUS, I connected him IMMEDIATELY to a local church here for discipleship!  This stuff…is hard to articulate!  I’m dumbfounded!   I’M CRAZY JUICED to be used by Him for the change of lives in our military folks!!  That is 7 salvations in the last 8 weeks, OH MY GOODNESS!!  Yes, Satan is Pi**ed and I’m glad!  I am diligently hungry to keep the Armor on while GOING HARD for the Gospel!  I have a similar prayer of yours but I’ll disclaim (I’m going to copy yours now)…God bless you sir!!”

Rejoice with, and pray for Chaplain Roy and Megan Fondren, as they start their chaplain career on a high note of praise, along with the other 12 CBAmerica Navy Chaplains on bases, hospitals, and vessels at sea. They are part of the 96 military and 65 civilian chaplains serving under CBAmerica endorsement.

For more information on CBAmerica Chaplaincy, including what’s entailed to become an endorsed chaplain, federal or civilian, contact Chaplain Andy Meverden at chapandy@cbmarica.org and visit www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy for more info and chaplain stories.

NOTE: Chaplaincy is not for the feint-hearted, but sometimes, like Chaplain Roy, you just have to jump and shout for joy!

Oikos Seminar September 24

OikosWe are excited to announce that something new is on the horizon with “OIKOS” and we can’t wait to tell you about it.  We are going to “let the cat out of the bag” on Thursday, September 24th at 10:30 am (Eastern) during a FREE Online Training by Tom Mercer.

REGISTER NOW!

Tom introduces The NEW Oikos Strategy for Church Growth and will teach us the 7-Steps to turning your members into promoters to assist your church in growing exponentially. These steps will give your congregation the tools needed to become raving promoters of the gospel and your church.

His guest Chad Thibodeaux, President of RadiusImpact Consulting will be on hand to give us some insight on how churches that are plateaued and declining can see an increase in attendance, giving, and salvations this fall and holiday season as well.

FREE BONUSES:

BONUS #1: Just for signing up we are going to give you Tom and Chad’s eBook, “The Common Sense Guide to World Change.”  This resource will explain the principle that brought 95% of all believers to Christ and give you a tool to assist people in creating their “God story.”

BONUS #2: Be sure to show up on time on September 24th as you will receive an assessment tool that you can use to evaluate your membership and learn whether they are merely “consumers” or “promoters.”

During the webinar there are 2 other “Surprise Bonuses” we are going to roll out as well because we want to adequately resource you and your church to reach more people.  Can you tell we are excited??  We hope you are as well!

This is a FREE Webinar so feel free to invite your entire staff and ministry team to join us.

REGISTER NOW!

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Make it a great day and we’ll see you on September 24th at 10:30 am Eastern Time.

Stan Rieb and the entire RMCN Team