On Wednesday, September 23rd Lutheran pastors, Aaron DeBenedetto and Leslie Scanlon went to prison. Touring St. Brides Correctional Center, these passionate young pastors learned about the multi-generational impact of GraceInside, up close and personal, in their own hidden back yards.
Hosted by GraceInside, the tour offered a peek into life on the inside for the1200 men incarcerated at the Level 2 facility. GraceInside, the mission partner of the Virginia Synod that places chaplains inside Virginia's prisons, offered the rare inside look hoping to engage more pastors, church leaders and individuals to see and understand the value of a Christian presence in the prisons. GraceInside's Supervising Chaplain, Bill Twine, took Pastors Scanlon and DeBenedetto, along with four other Lutheran congregants, (and GraceInside Board and staff}, on a tour including the programs building, yard, inmate print shop, and a housing unit. But the favorite part of the tour was visiting with the men incarcerated there who shared their testimony to the impact of GraceInside.
|Chaplain Twine (right) with a volunteer and a graduate of St. Bride's discipleship class|
"The tour of St. Brides organized by GraceInside was great timing for me," said Pastor Scanlon. "I just started serving at pastor at Grace Lutheran in Chesapeake, and St. Brides is part of the wider community that I am focusing on getting to know as I begin this new call. I enjoyed getting to see the facility, but even more so, getting to hear about the direct impact of the ministry to, with, and by those incarcerated there. God is present all around us; when we forget God is present even in prisoners, we miss out."
One story that the group heard started with a beautiful postcard celebrating the college graduation of a young woman. A dark haired beautiful young woman with a sparkling smile, she shared how her life was blessed because of Chaplain Twine. She expressed her gratitude for his impact in her life and reported how she was now accepting a position in ministry! That's all wonderful, but Chaplain Twine has only served at a men's prison. How would he have mattered to this young woman?
Chaplain Twine remembers, "Years ago, I baptized her father! And later, I married her father to her mother! Over the years, they've kept in touch. When she went on a mission trip to France years ago, I helped sponsor her."
That's the story of GraceInside - saving lives from the inside out. GraceInside's impact doesn't stop with the inmates for when their lives are transformed by grace, the family changes, too.
Another gentleman shared the power of Jesus Christ in helping him disciple other inmates who come into the system, able to teach and care for the spiritual lives of those in his housing "pod" because of the support and training offered through the Chaplain's office.
The graduates from the discipleship class held at St. Brides.
Rev. DeBenedetto shared, "It was amazing to see God working beyond anything I could imagine at St. Brides. Disciples are being made, disciples that truly get that it is by God's grace alone we are saved. I was transformed by the men I met. Jesus is truly at work!"
GraceInside places chaplains, like Chaplain Twine, in more than 30 prison facilities throughout Virginia. Since 1920, GraceInside has been the agency trusted by churches, denominations and individuals to work with the Department of Corrections and protect the religious and spiritual needs of the incarcerated. Supported by those who believe that Jesus Christ offers redemption, reconciliation and transformation, GraceInside honors the command to "visit those in prison."
With only part-time chaplains in most prisons, imagine the impact in our communities (both inside and out) if we were able to offer chaplains full-time. Men and women in prison need to know they are loved, remembered and valued because they matter to God. God is moving powerfully throughout our prisons in Virginia. Lives are changing every single day. That means families are changing...and communities... and the family of God. GraceInside matters!