Water Aerobics Ministry
When Barbara S. Houser, an ordained Assemblies of God minister and endorsed correctional chaplain in Columbia, South Carolina, joined the Katie & Irwin Kahn Jewish Community Center (JCC) gymnasium with her chaplain husband, John R. Houser, she never imagined she would one day serve as a sports/athletic chaplain within U.S. Missions at the JCC.
Houser, 73, worked as a South Carolina Department of Corrections volunteer chaplain for 17 years — until COVID-19 restrictions prevented her from visiting inmates. She then began accompanying her husband, John, 71, who serves as a volunteer sports/athletic chaplain with the JCC. When Houser started attending water aerobic classes at the gym, she noticed the number of people in need of spiritual, physical, and mental health counseling.
“One person after another began talking with me about children in prison, having struggles, and health issues that were not obvious,” says Houser. “I always told them l would pray about their situation. When I saw them later, I asked how they were.”
Houser also supports the women in practical ways. Many are older, have had joint replacement surgery, and suffer with other health issues. Houser often assists them as they get into the pool. Her actions build trust and communicate that she cares.
“We serve a large senior population,” explains Barry A. Abels, executive director of the JCC. “Illnesses and family loss is, unfortunately, somewhat common with our members. Barbara can play a calming and comforting role in the lives of our members, especially since friendships develop between those who frequently exercise together.”
Although the center is a Jewish organization, membership is open to all, and Abels notes there are many more non-Jewish than Jewish members.
Houser says the ministry is about meeting people where they are, building bridges, and planting seeds. Results may not be evident immediately. She encourages Christians to view their daily connections as a mission field, whether shopping at a grocery store or flying on an airplane.
“Opportunities are all around us,” maintains Houser. “God is moving, and we have to be alert to these opportunities.”
One woman whose brother lives in Denver and has cancer knew Houser prays, so she sought her out at the JCC. Houser prays regularly for the woman, checking in with her at the gym three times a week.
Houser, who holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, is working toward certification as a water aerobics instructor. Her dissertation offered a biblical view of penal rehumanization for the incarcerated. She strongly believes in providing holistic care to prisoners, emphasizing their need for reconciliation with God, self, others, and restoration in all areas of life. Houser also teaches religion and music courses at Midlands Technical College and serves as music director for the Fort Jackson Protestant chapel.