Several nights a week, a handful of Cedarville students go to jail.
Cedarville’s community ministries provide students with several different ways to serve in the community. Some students serve by going to Clark County Jail in Springfield to minister to the inmates.
Ben German, a Cedarville junior, said when he was a freshman, he looked for a ministry to get involved with that would stretch him and allow him to share the gospel. He found one at the jail.
German said he did the ministry his freshman year, but no one was operating it his sophomore year. He emailed John Wambold, director of community ministries, and officially restarted the ministry.
German said they have about 17 or 18 people who regularly come, but they break up into smaller groups of three to seven people to go on different nights to talk to the inmates.
He said they are each given the name of an inmate for them to visit with, and then the guys and girls split up to talk to different people. The guys go upstairs where they talk individually with inmates through a phone booth. The girls go downstairs and outside where they talk to the women through a fence.
German said he encourages people to try to stick with the same person if possible to build a relationship with them. However, since jail is short term and people are usually only in for about a month, the students might not be able to talk to the same inmate each time they go, said Sarah Powazki, a sophomore who leads the team that goes to the jail on Tuesday nights.
“So most of the time, we’ll talk to someone as they’re going through the whole process,” Powazki said, “and that point when they’re in jail is usually when they’re completely broken down because they just got in there, and they don’t know what to do, and they have no idea what’s going to happen with their future.”
German said it is easy to talk to the inmates because they usually just want to talk to someone.
“It’s nice because the inmates, when they come in, they’ve been on their guard all day long with the other inmates, and they haven’t been able to really open up and express their feelings or emotions,” German said. “And so generally, they’re really ready to talk when you get in there with them.”
Powazki said she was nervous her first time going, but she soon realized it is nothing to be scared of because the people there are just like anyone else.
“It’s just talking to people, and they’re not scary people just because they’re in jail,” Powazki said. “And you just get so blessed from the whole experience and getting to hear the stories. It’s not stories that I hear every day where I live and the environment that I’m in. It’s not Cedarville. It’s awesome to be able to talk to people and hear their story and just tell them about Christ.”
Greg Thorpe, a junior who leads the Wednesday night team, said at first it just seemed like God was using them to plant a seed for the gospel rather than directly winning people to Christ.
“But over the past 10 months, the amount of change that God has made in that place is phenomenal,” Thorpe said in an email. “It started out as a little flame and flicker of hope for the gospel in such a dark place. But going into the jail today and seeing the gospel at work is like stepping into a fire – the gospel’s all around you, and it’s consuming everyone. This semester a lot of inmates have been won for Christ, and a lot of lives changed for the better.”
Each of the students has special memories from the ministry of breaking through to someone. German said his memorable success story for this semester was talking to an inmate named Dan and leading him to Christ. German said he hadn’t even anticipated going to the jail that night, but he ended up going because someone needed a ride. And God set it up for him to talk to Dan.
German said Dan was broken over his sin and addiction to drugs for 20 years, among other problems in his life, to the point that he couldn’t sleep at night and was crying when he talked to German.
“He was just amazed when I told him that God loved him, and God could forgive him from all the horrible things that he’d done,” German said. “And so he wanted to think about it over that weekend, but I came back on Monday, and he professed Christ that week, which was just incredible.”
Dan told German when he gets out of jail in a few weeks, he wants to spend more time with German and go to church with him.
Powazki said her best experience was when she talked to a woman who claimed to be a Christian and had been involved in My Church in Springfield and had been doing well, but when she left that atmosphere, everything fell apart.
“Really, it was just so evident that she was completely basing her faith on how she felt, not on God,” Powazki said. “She was literally missing God in the whole thing.”
Powazki said she could tell that the woman did not have a true understanding of what it meant to be a Christian, but the two worked through it in their conversation.
“By the end, she was in tears, and I was just so excited because she was understanding it,” Powazki said, “and you could just see that God was completely working in her right at that moment.
“I was like, ‘You haven’t lost your faith. You just stumbled, and that’s OK, and it’s time to get back on track,’” Powazki said. “And she was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do.’
“It was so cool and so evident that when we put our faith in God, that God completely has a hold of us, even when we fail,” Powazki said. “We still can fail as Christians, and it’ll happen. And whether it’s just saying a little lie or going into relapse with drugs, God still has a hold of us and still wants us to come running back to him, and we have that chance.”
Thorpe also had a memorable experience of leading someone to Christ.
“My favorite experience was definitely after an inmate had just devoted his life to Jesus, and he goes, ‘I’m so thankful for you, my dude,’ and puts his fist up to fist bump me through two panes of bulletproof glass,” Thorpe said in an email.
German said the ministry stretches people to get out of their comfort zones.
“It gives you a great avenue to actually share your faith in really not a threatening environment,” German said, “because they want to talk about God.”
Kate Norman is a junior journalism major and a copy editor for Cedars. Kate hopes to attend graduate school in Scotland and wants to live and work overseas one day.