From Prisons to Preparedness

From Prisons to Preparedness

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To obtain a master's degree from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Michael L. Reighard embarked on practicum work at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. Because of the program, Reighard understood the importance of integrating law enforcement with pastoral ministry, and learned how to balance compassion and corrections.

"I saw the need of reaching people for Christ when they have nowhere else to go," Reighard says. "When people have nowhere else to turn, they start thinking about God."

Subsequently, the high-energy Reighard urged inmates being inducted into the facility to contemplate what is really important in their world. He told them if they sought truth, they would find it, because God would meet their need.

Reighard ended up obtaining a master's in pastoral counseling, a master's of divinity, and a doctorate of ministry from AGTS. Along the way he served as supervisory chaplain at three federal prisons in Sandstone, Minnesota, La Tuna, Texas, and Springfield, Missouri.

Three years before he retired as a Bureau of Prisons chaplain in 2009, the multitasking Reighard founded the Jericho Commission, an organization that identifies congregations willing to partner with inmates looking for a church home upon release from prison. 

As far back as 1989, when he became chaplain at Sandstone, Reighard repeatedly saw stable Christian men returning to the institution soon after their release. Although the inmates had experienced genuine relationships among Christians inside prison walls, they had a difficult time finding a congregation in which they could be successfully integrated in the outside world.

Reighard realized the key to transitioning back into society involved teaming with mentors who provide spiritual care and accountability. Jericho Commission enables pastors and congregants to feel comfortable with ex-offenders in their midst, while simultaneously providing a care management team to help the former inmate upon re-entry.

By 2014, the Jericho Commission had 50 trained volunteer mentors active in eight congregations in the Springfield area.

The multitalented Reighard likewise founded the Correctional Ministries and Chaplains Association in 2011. CMCA quickly emerged as the premier organization for correctional chaplains and workers, specializing in education, training and certification for hundreds of like-minded evangelicals. The group takes a holistic approach to correctional ministry, including inmates, ex-offenders, and chaplains in its ranks.

"Most churches that are growing in prisons are evangelical, specifically Pentecostal," Reighard says. "CMCA will continue to grow because it will not move from the inerrancy of Scripture."

As if he needed a new challenge, in 2013 Reighard immediately accepted a request from AG Chaplaincy Ministries Director Alvin F. Worthley to lead the Fellowship's new critical incident response outreach.

During his many years of ministry Reighard had teamed with police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians at various times. He also worked as a security guard during his days at Central Bible College.

But the Chaplaincy Ministries initiative, 46:1 Response, is as much preparing for catastrophes as reacting to them.

"It's not as effective to just sit around waiting for a crisis or disaster to take place," Reighard says.

The newest national branch of AG Chaplaincy gives tools to local leaders to respond appropriately to multiple troubles, ranging from the suicide of someone in a church to mass shootings.

Each AG district has autonomy over its own 46:1 Response program, but Chaplaincy Ministries assists local congregations in training teams that will respond with caring and healing to critical incidents, whether personal or large scale.

"46:1 Response is the common thread of compassion that equips the diversified ministries of the Assemblies of God, both at home and abroad," Reighard says. "Every ministry the Assemblies of God has wants to be able to provide their parishioners, adherents and people groups with what 46:1 Response has to offer."

The 46:1 Response model unifies the Fellowship with a single mission via education and training, according to Reighard. As such, it can be plugged into ministries as diverse as Royal Rangers,Chi Alpha, or RV Volunteers. It is adaptable for those involved in church planting, disabilities ministries, or fighting human trafficking, Reighard says.

Reighard has developed the 46:1 Response protocols and logistics that synchronize with a software program for immediate retrieval of information to make knowledgeable decisions. The ministry is based on Psalm 46:1: "God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble."

"The verse is not offensive to non-Christians, and it's a good witnessing tool," Reighard says. "Everyone has difficulties in life, and these difficulties present an open door to ministry."

 Image used in accordance with Creative Commons license. Photo credit: Tony Webster, Flickr

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