Helping and Enriching Lives Through Prison Ministry

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Two different men with two different stories, but both saved by the gospel!


Another year completed.  2016 will mark the 11th year of my ministry in the prisons.  It is hard to believe. I can’t begin to tell you how much I have grown through this work, and how much your prayers and support continue to mean to me.  This quarter I bring you good news. We have two men, Robert McConnell and Neil Babbs, who are ready to graduate from our transition program. Let me introduce you to them by sharing what Eron Wahlstrom had to say about them. Eron is a member of our congregation and employs both Robert and Neil in his Pest Control and Lawn Service business. I asked Eron to comment on them so I could include a few of his thoughts in this report. I had already written their story that appears below, when Eron sent this to me. I decided to share his full response with you…

As far as both guys go I would have to say that both of them exhibit the heart of a servant which I see very clearly. Neil has this compelling need of helping everyone around him which I admire and he has also learned to embrace simple living which Christianity advises. He also is always in pursuit of learning. We have had many spiritual discussions and studies that I believe have benefited both of us. Robert is a very hard worker, very humble, and willing to share his faith with anyone who will listen. His strength of character is in short supply for guys his age. His willingness to step outside of his comfort zone is such a positive influence on me. I think both are great assets to the body of Christ and from my perspective are producing fruit in their respective lives. 

Robert  – Robert has been free for about 11 months. I met Robert only a year before his release.  Another brother at Lawtey suggested he come and talk with me.

He heard me give a talk at a re-entry seminar at Lawtey where I emphasized not going back home upon release to old friends, a dysfunctional family, etc. That made him reconsider his release plan to go back home.  Robert, at 23, was also younger than men I typically work with, and it was his second time in prison. Robert was already signed up to go to work release when we first met. Work release is a minimum security prison that allows inmates to work in the community the last year of their sentence. Work release is very appealing to men in prison because they feel like it gives them a head start on their release by allowing them to save about a third of their income to use after release. It also provides them with a more “free world” environment to work and live in during their last year. It sounds like a great thing, but my experience with men going there has been the opposite. It is really like sending a new Christian to Sodom and Gomorrah for a year before going to Jerusalem! Also, Robert was studying his Bible, but not born again when I met him.  Therefore, I told Robert that I would only consider him for our transition housing if he agreed to remove his request for work release. I explained that I thought it was a bad environment for someone like him, and I needed the next year to study with him and get to know him better.  It hit him like a sledge hammer.  He thought I was crazy I’m sure. To his credit, he went and thought about it, sought council from some of the brothers there and finally yielded to what we told him was best for his long term success.

About two months later Robert was baptized into Christ and began to learn and grow. From the start, Robert was very open and upfront about his life and he showed he would listen to godly council, a trait unique to most men in prison and especially to someone his age. Robert has continued to be open, honest and willing to listen to council since his release. Robert is a servant of others. He is dedicated to helping everyone he comes in contact with.  He is humble and will accept correction.  He genuinely wants to do better and have a better life.  He is a faithful member of the church here.  He has a goal to go to college one day to further his education. I am so proud of the man Robert has become.  His life is on the right path.

Neil  – Neil has been out for about one and a half years. Whereas Robert is probably the youngest man we have ever had in our program, Neil is the oldest. He was 65 when released.  I met Neil at Lawtey when he started attending some of the classes we offer.  I didn’t know what to think of Neil early on.  He was receptive to being taught, but had a lot of misunderstandings about the Bible to work through. He was also being heavily influenced by the different teachings that are available at Lawtey. After a while, it was clear that he carried a lot of anger and pain from his past. I remember one night in class the material struck a raw nerve with him. I thought I would need to call an officer to restrain him.  We got through that, and he began to slowly let God work on the rage inside him. Due to his studying with Denny Freeman, another brother who works in the prisons also, he became a Christian.

However, he still held to a lot of his old beliefs and was still very emotional and volatile. It was Denny who convinced me to consider Neil for the transition program.  To be honest, I was unsure at best.

His anger, his age, and his health were all concerns of mine.  Also Neil was going to be on house arrest for at least the first year of his release. I finally accepted Neil largely on Denny’s recommendation. The first few months with Neil were tough. He was prone to anger and frustration more than most men. He almost came to blows with another man at the house over issues in the kitchen. However, Neil would always show proper remorse when we talked through these things and he worked toward growing and doing better. I saw a lot of growth in Neil over the months ahead. Neil is also a servant. He always was eager to prepare for new men coming to the program.  When Gary Lawson was released in August Neil knew of his unusual situation – Gary is unable to secure a Driver License because of a lifetime suspension. Neil, without prompting, bought Gary a bike so he would have transportation to work. Neil cares for others. He has been living on his own now for several months, but continues to be faithful. He is a member of the Kingsley congregation in Orange Park. Neil’s life shows the growth that so many men never accomplish once they are released.  He is a good example for the other men and continues to attend classes and functions at the transition house.

Thank God for men like Robert and Neil. Two different men with two different stories, but both saved by the gospel. It helps me to see that some do get it and continue to serve God after release.  Thank you for supporting me so I can find these men with the gospel.