Since 1995, Fr Seraphim has been visiting prisoners in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice prisons. We did not seek out this ministry; rather, it came to us as God allowed. (See Fr Seraphim's story, below). Currently, Father Seraphim visits 3 different prisons. There have been 2 baptisms, and there are several men preparing to become catechumens. All together, about 12 men are seen. Most Wednesdays are set aside for prison ministry. Because Texas is a big state, there is a lot of driving involved (between 5 and 8 hours round trip). This is made possible because the parish is able to pay Father a small stipend and pay for his travel expenses. This is, to be honest a bit of a stretch for us, as we are attempting to build a small church (hopefully done by late 2009), and with God's help grow. Everybody knows about the economy. We sometimes need to rub two nickels together really hard to try to get a quarter, but God has provided.
With God's help, we would love to see this ministry expand. We need to send letters to the prisoners more frequently, and to send quality Orthodox literature, and for all of this we need another source of funding for the prison ministry. The parish currently spends $2000.00 yearly on the prison ministry. If we received donations of $3000.00 a year, we could not only relieve a financial burden from St Nicholas, but also provide for these other critical needs.
We also need volunteer chaplains to work with Father Seraphim. Whether you wish to visit or write letters, your help is needed, and we can help you get the training that you need. For some of these men, Father is the ONLY human being in the "free world" (as they call it) who sees them or writes to them Imagine how that feels! Imagine if we could provide a service to each of these prisons EVERY week! Currently, most are only seen once a month.
Finally, and most importantly, we need your prayers! We cannot give out names of people, to protect their privacy, but you certainly can pray that God would prosper our small ministry as He sees fit.
Anything you give that is earmarked for prison ministry will be used as you wish. Contact us if you want to help in any way.
One Sunday, about 14 years ago, a young man came to our church with two parishioners. They had been friends for many years. I could tell that this young man was troubled about something; I did not know what it was. After service, I sat with him under a Hackberry tree for 5 hours and discussed many spiritual things. I did not think much of it; these things happen sometimes. Some people come around again, and others I never see again in this life. It is hard to know whether one's efforts will bear fruit or not.
Three days later, on Wednesday, I was told the young man had turned himself in regarding a legal matter. He was kept in the Fort Worth Jail for over 2 years before his trial (so much for the constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial!). I visited him many times in that cold and creepy jail, and developed a relationship with him. I did not evangelize him; I just tried to be a friend. I was working full time, and the visits were fewer than I would have liked. Eventually, he was convicted, and I followed him in to the prison system. In time, he expressed to me a hunger for baptism, and his actions made me believe that his was not a "jail house conversion".
I made arrangements to baptize him. The Baptists in Texas have done us a great service. There is an adult baptistry in every Texas prison! On the day of the baptism, two other men showed up. The prison grapevine is very efficient, and faster and more reliable than the internet. One of the men had been baptized by Fr Duane Pedersen years ago, and his friend and he had been praying for TWO YEARS that a priest would come so that he could be baptized. It turned out that I was the answer to that prayer.
In due time, this man was also catechized and baptized.
It turns out my first prison convert is quite the Apostle, and two of his close friends are now in catechesis.
And all I did was talk to a guy under a Hackberry tree!
So much happens in God’s plan without us knowing, understanding or even needing to know. All we need to do is be like Samuel:
“… the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I. “ (1Sa 3:4 )
Ministry does not take talent; God gives that. It does not require intelligence: God gives that. It does require us to SHOW UP; God won’t do that for us, but He will help.
I do not have any snazzy pictures (I cannot bring a camera in), or any incredible stories. Most of what I have heard and seen I do not feel I can share publicly. I am not any good at marketing stuff and making it look really exciting. To tell the truth, there is nothing exciting about driving 8 hours in a day to be in a prison for only 2 hours. I can only assure you that this ministry has been God's doing, and I am privileged to be a part of it. I am also overwhelmed by the need that is present, and my meager strength. There is so much more that we should be doing!
If you want to SHOW UP in this ministry, you know who to call.
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