Jail ministry tent revival is a successful first

Aug 22, 2013

Many who end up in jail probably don’t expect to come out of the experience with hope for the future, encouragement on the outside and a newfound faith in God. But through old and new programs at the jail, local churches are offering inmates exactly that.

The most recent event, a tent revival set up for the inmates on the lawn outside the jail, is thought to be the first of its kind in the state. The revival was as successful as it was unique.

Of the 115 inmates at the time, 84 attended the optional tent revival. Haywood County Sheriff Gregg Christopher said he believed everyone in the jail would have attended, however some of them were not allowed out of their cells if they were considered a flight risk.

Out of the group that attended, 30 made confessions of faith. Many were dunked in the baptismal pool in their bright orange jumpsuits, wearing shackles around their wrists and ankles.

It’s difficult to say whether those who attended are truly changed. But just as Nick Honerkamp, of New Covenant Church, said, “No one can know the condition of a man’s heart, according to the Bible.”

The raw emotion, excitement and genuine passion described of those three nights could be enough to inspire lasting change.

Aside from the singing and preaching, inmates were also moved by the fact that Christopher was so eager to share his own words of encouragement at the revival.

Christopher has proven that the role of sheriff isn’t just to keep inmates in line. Instead, he has a genuine passion to help inmates reform their ways and transform their lives, and he does that in the best way he knows — through Christian love.

Aside from the revival, there are about 14 local churches that come to the jail on a weekly basis to sit with inmates, read the Bible, pray and offer guidance without discrimination. For those inmates not allowed to leave their cells, church members will sit on the ground in front of their cell door and share the word of God with them.

Hands Up Recovery and Transformation Foundation, a grassroots organization formed by local church members about three months ago, organized the revival. Hands Up members have also been offering a Sunday morning church service at the jail, bringing in guest speakers from churches across the county.

Every penny that went into the event was paid for by local churches. Even deputies and sheriff’s office staff volunteered their own time to provide security at the revival.

The Rev. Steve Taylor, pastor at Antioch Baptist Church, said there is a hunger in the jail — hunger for hope that their lives can be different.

We hope more churches and individuals will find ways to become involved in reaching out to inmates, whether it’s sharing with them during Sunday worship at the jail or through offering them support and encouragement once they are released.

Haywood County residents have proven time and again that anything can happen when people come together with a common goal. We hope people will find a way to help the Hands Up foundation reach its ultimate goal of creating a halfway house for inmates when they leave jail.

Haywood County is blessed to have a sheriff who not only takes an interest in the lives of those who end up in his jail, but who genuinely wants to see them succeed.