Pastor Ed’s Story
September 1, 1994 at 6:15pm was the time I was supposed to die, instead, by God’s incredible grace and mercy, I received life eternal.
September 1st was my third day in county jail, in Bridgeport, CA. As far as I was concerned, I had lost it all when I was arrested…my family, my career (which was everything to me- I was on the county paramedic squad and a fireman/engineer); there was just nothing left to live for. I had talked with my parents on the phone each night, but this night they had no idea that my intentions were to kill myself after talking with them; they had no idea that my “bye…I love you”, wasn’t just an “I’ll see/talk with ya later”—it was a “good bye…I’m leaving this world”.
Before we got off the phone, my Dad (inspired by the Holy Spirit I’m confident of) said to me, “Son, if you really want to know the truth, go back to your cell and read all of first John; if you are truly born again it will give you great peace, and if you are not, it will give you great conviction—if you are truly searching”. “Ok Dad”, I said, hung up the phone and started the short walk back to my cell, my intended self execution chamber moments away.
My cell door opened electronically, I stepped in and it shut. Sitting on the edge of my bunk, I was mentally preparing myself to draw my last breath when I looked next to me. There sat that old, gold Gideon Bible I picked up when they let me out for some free time a few days before. For the first time I looked at that Bible and in my heart, truly wanted to know what was truth and what was not. I picked up that Bible and turned to first John as my Dad had suggested. I read there how that if we walk in darkness, the truth could not be in us. Now I knew from school and church, that “truth” there meant Jesus Christ because He is the Truth and the Light. It was at that very moment that the Spirit pierced through the dark veil upon my heart and those words sunk down in so deep—I’ll never forget it. That moment, rather than hanging myself and ending my life, I fell to my knees on that cold cement floor and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ; nothing has been the same since then.
He said that “from the womb I have called you”, and I have known all my life that He has called me to preach and minister the Gospel of Christ—there has been no doubt in my heart and mind. A couple of months later, and after some spiritual feeding, growth and time alone with my Saviour, I again began to have that call knocking at me. I would try to put it out of my heart and mind, but it was right there and so ever present. I really didn’t understand why—I knew God couldn’t use me now…I was a criminal of the worst kind…how could He use me? I read where Paul said he was the “chief of sinners” and in my mind I argued with Paul, “No Paul! I’m the chief of sinners!” I shared my struggles with my Mom & Dad and told them that I felt I was the “chief of sinners” and God couldn’t use me…why am I feeling this call in my heart again…this burning. Dad quickly reminded me, in his special way that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God (God breathed). Paul was a murderer of the worst sorts and “wasted the church”; but God used him to not only write most of the New Testament, but also the instructions, orders and charges for the church and church officials. At that moment, I realized God could use me, and though incarcerated, I answered and surrendered to His call.
Through my time of incarceration, I continued to grow spiritually and academically. Dr. Roland Rasmussen took me under his wing and began to put me through my ordination studies. In my day to day, as I got to know other inmates and they would share their hearts, I would share with them God’s saving grace and what He did for me. I helped them down the trail and through the mine fields I had already come through, as I continued to grow and walk down my path.
In mid ’97, Dr. Rasmussen came to the institution and with witnesses, gave me a five hour oral exam covering every area of doctrine and practice. On June 4, 1997, my ordination was brought before the board of deacons and a unanimous vote was given. A short time later, it was brought before the church body for a vote, and again, a unanimous vote was cast.
Being in the institution and watching men come back, even ones I knew had genuinely received Christ and wanted a change, I began to see where some of the problems were. One, the Chaplains are not in the position to “Pastor” and shepherd effectively. Just because someone receives Christ as their Saviour, does not mean that they will not sin, it does not mean that they won’t fall…and if they do sin and fall, it does not mean they were not genuine in their acceptance of Christ and a true desire to change. Christ describes them in Corinthians as “new born babes desiring the sincere milk of the Word (Bible).” Babes have to be fed and nurtured and I whole heartedly believe that is the job of the local churches. Although, while most churches are “missions” minded, they over look the domestic mission field in their very own back yard…the prisons. I began to see that one chaplain for four to five prison yards with a thousand plus men on every yard, could not fulfill this task and it is not his job to do so.
With that in mind, in ’97 Bethesda Ministries was birthed. I knew these men who we led to Christ inside needed to be nurtured and I began recruiting a fellow inmate who was spiritually strong, in each building to be an Ambassador for the ministry to help feed the men, be there for them and to be an accountability partner. They would sit down with the men in their building (one on one) and go through a basic four part Bible study program that gave them the basics of what it was to be a Christian, what is sin, who is Christ, what is faith, what is prayer. While we spent four weeks going through these with them, they were being enrolled in a more comprehensive correspondence program with Rock of Ages Prison Ministries. This program worked very well for many years and some men we were able to establish outside sponsors for in the church where they were paroling to, so that they had a warm relationship coming out of prison and going into a church where they otherwise would know no one.
Fast forwarding to present day: we now have a team that ministers weekly on several yards at Avenal State Prison and CMC East and West. We are seeing many men coming to Christ through our program. The prison staff comments weekly on the changes they are seeing on the yards where we have a team. Now, we would be very remiss and perpetuating the issue if we didn’t implement programs such as I did when I was incarcerated. The men whose lives have been touched and desire to change, we are setting up for the same problem that I witnessed before.
We are getting ready to implement the peer mentoring and Bible Study program, much like the one I started while I was incarcerated.
During that implementation, we will be visiting churches all throughout California recruiting sponsors/mentors to match up with the inmates. The inmate will be matched with a sponsor in the local church where he will be paroling to. We will also be recruiting volunteers to help in the prisons.
Rather than reinventing yet another wheel, we will align ourselves with resources and organizations which meet the needs of our clients who are coming home and their families. We will educate our sponsors in utilizing and developing relationships with those resources and having them available when needed.
It is our intention to establish “faith-base” housing programs that will encompass structured programs and aiding clients in the transition back into society with a faith based perspective rather than their old way of life and thinking. We also intend to provide vocational and lifeskills programs in areas where not already available through strategic alliances.
SEX OFFENDER PROGRAM AND HOUSING:
This area should be dubbed “No Man’s Land”. It seems every program and grant wants to eliminate this demographic…we don’t. The reality is, these offenders are coming home. When we exclude these men from every program and highly limit their chances for employment or success, that does not solve the problem, it perpetuates it. The fact is, a small percentage of sex offenders are predatory. The sex offenders who truly are not predatory are treatable. It is a known fact that sexual activity can become an addiction just like any other addiction, but can be an addiction that can be more difficult to manage than nicotine. From a “faith-based” perspective, one of the most dangerous fallacies when one comes to Christ, is that Christ takes the addiction away. Men will genuinely receive Christ but incorrectly believe that Christ is going to keep them from their activity. The truth is, this addiction, like other addictions, is an escape for pain, anger and other issues that need to be tended too. When these clients are “backed into a corner”, issues not dealt with, no income and no support, they will do what they know to do to escape from reality, just like a crack addict. In this case, the drug of choice is not crack, it is sex and involves victims.
We intend to initiate a pilot program in the Sacramento region. This program will be a group home model, preferably just out of town in a semi rural area. Clients will be involved in a faith based, sexual addictions group program that is two phase, as well as entrepreneurial training. We intend to teach them how to be business owners in the field that interests them, thereby limiting their involvement in the mainline work force, yet becoming a self-supporting, viable part of society.
Our Family Outreach team enjoys working with the families of inmates and victims. One of the points of contact, assistance and intervention we have identified is when the families come to the institutions to visit their inmate/family member. Most of them travel many miles to give their support, when they themselves are in need of support. We intended to establish a house near each institution where families will be able to stay, for a small fee, in a supportive, faith-based environment. Here, they will be away from their “day-to-day grind” where they will be open to counseling and support. When they go to visit an inmate for an entire weekend (typically three days during the day), they have free time in the evening. During that free time we intend to provide counseling, group time, and aid with available resources. Also, we will be able to guide and help them with issues that may arise during a visit and with direction and guidance in how to handle parole when their inmate comes home. We will also guide them in things such as, how to know the difference between supporting and enabling and working with the parole agent instead of against.
It is our intention to begin an aggressive recruiting campaign this summer, in churches throughout California and helping churches to see the great need of the domestic mission field in their own back yard.
We intend to implement training programs, workshops, conference calls, webinars and isolated social networking devices to support volunteers and open & maintain lines of communication among volunteers, trainers, pastoral/ministry staff and law enforcement. We also intend to create workshops and open lines of communication that will specifically foster Sponsor and Parole Agent communications and understanding.
It is our full intention to work with organizations and form strategic alliances with ministries and organizations who already have viable programs to help strengthen and compliment each other rather than to duplicate identical resources competing for funding, personnel, etc.
Bethesda has a hardline approach when it comes to parole violation and crime. We believe that through these programs, recidivism and victimization will be reduced. However, while we do our best to support the inmate, parolee and family, we have a zero tolerance policy on crime and parole violations. Sponsors, Volunteers and Bethesda staff are expected to report any known criminal activity or parole violation.