Giving Second Chances
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The 50-year-old pastor of Freedom City Church in Springfield, Missouri, ministers regularly in local jails; interacts with lawyers, prosecutors and judges; and operates Hope Homes of the Ozarks.
Hope Homes is an Adult & Teen Challenge ministry started by Freedom City, an Assemblies of God congregation. The 9-month program assists those coming out of prison by helping them find employment and get back on their feet.
Citing Matthew 25:36, Alarid, a former cocaine and heroin addict, believes it’s important for AG churchgoers to help those released from prison find adequate jobs and housing.
”This is Jesus-style ministry,” says Alarid, who also is an AG chaplain. “Jesus came to set the captives free. When we visit and prioritize those who are incarcerated, we are actively walking out the Word of God and loving the least of these.”
In April, Freedom City participated in Second Chance Month, an initiative of Prison Fellowship, the ministry founded by the late Charles W. Colson.
To observe the event, Mark A. Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church (NCC), an AG congregation in Washington, D.C., preached a sermon titled “People of the Second Chance.”
”One in two Americans has a loved one who was or is incarcerated,” Batterson says. “We need to stand in that gap. Of the 1.7 million people incarcerated, 95% will reenter society and that’s where the challenge presents itself.”
Batterson notes the unemployment rate among released prisoners is 27%, and poverty is the strongest indicator of recidivism.
“I just say if you’re an employer, could you give someone a second chance?” Batterson says.
Jill Carmichael, NCC local missions director, notes that the church has partnered with DC Dream Center by assisting with job fairs and connections to services for ex-prisoners. Additionally, NCC’s homeless ministry reaches a group that has experienced incarceration. The church also has partnered with Prison Fellowship for the past five years.
“We work through long-term relationships to connect people to housing resources, and support,” Carmichael says. “When people return from prison, they are faced with barriers to jobs, housing, voting, and other opportunities, which make rebuilding their lives extremely difficult. We must work together to always show grace and give people a second chance.”
Eric J. Earhart, pastor of Upper Room Assembly (URA) in Gatesville, North Carolina, spent 42 months behind bars after being convicted of cocaine trafficking.
He believes Jesus wants every one of the nearly 13,000 U.S. AG churches to have a prison ministry.
More than 2 million people are incarcerated in the U.S., according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
“On top of that, there are millions of people like me: felons who have done their time and walk among us,” says Earhart, 54. “By helping inmates reintegrate into society as productive and fruitful citizens, the Church not only fulfills the biblical mandate, but also makes society safer for everyone.”
Earhart, who has pastored URA since 2001, believes the Lord wants Christians to engage in the vast opportunity.
“Most prisoners will be released at some point,” he says. “They need church families to encourage them on their journeys. They need hope for the future.”
URA, which has 100 regular attendees, has an active prison ministry. The congregation has helped five inmates reintegrate into society by assisting with securing gainful employment, adequate housing, and building fruitful relationships in the church and community. The church likewise provides classes for those returning to society to be a godlier spouse and parent.
Freedom City Church has experienced similar positive results, with people such as David Lee Manning turning their lives around.
Andrew C. Bieber, 25, has attended Freedom City for nearly three years.
“As a formerly incarcerated person who struggled with addiction, Freedom City provided me with a church environment that I could feel comfortable in and a place I could grow in the call God has for me,” Bieber says.
Bieber and his wife, Brianna, are now youth directors and lead Freedom City’s Beyond the Walls street evangelism team.
Those ministered to include former inmate Jason T. Sheffield, once involved in organized crime, part of a biker gang, and a struggler with addiction.
“God has blessed me by giving me a church home and family at Freedom City for almost four years,” says Sheffield, 45. “I am authentically valued, accepted, and loved at Freedom City.” He serves on the men’s leadership team as well as prison ministry team.