Prisoners to Pastors

James stands on the street corner where both his training home and partnering church are located. Richmond, CA.

James stands on the street corner where both his training home and partnering church are located. Richmond, CA.

Back in 2006, James was detained in a jail cell. He knew he would be going to prison, but he didn’t know for how long. In that moment of fear and loneliness, James made the decision to follow Christ. Later that week he was sentenced to 8 yrs. When James arrived at prison, he was immediately confronted by inmate politics. Prisoners are expected to choose their affiliation; which is generally determined by race and gang allegiance. However, a small number of men like James will choose Christianity as their “gang.”  This means they serve no one but God. However, this is a very dangerous decision, because no gang will protect you, and all inmates will watch closely to see if you are really a Christian!

The first day in the yard can is scary experience for any prisoner. The yard is where general population interacts outside. They lift weights, congregate in defined groups, walk along the fence, play sports, etc. As luck would have it, James was pointed to where the Christians hung out. Having no friends or protection, James walked bravely toward the “Christian group.” He was immediately greeted by Ray. Ray was an ex-gangbanger from Long Beach, CA. He was a humble brother that had already been in prison for 15 yrs, (serving two consecutive 25-life sentences). Ray immediately took James under his wing. He discipled him daily in the yard and connected him with the prison's church and Chaplain. Ray was not an ordinary Christian inmate. He was more like a theological professor behind bars. Having built a complete Christian library in his cell, this brother composed his own seminary courses to train impassioned inmates. Seeing much promise in James’ walk with the Lord, Ray led him through his advanced Christian studies, and appointed him elder of the prison church.

James began leading mid-week Bible studies at the prison church. Along with his daily meetings with Ray, James taught John Macarther’s Fundimentals of the Faith and biblical anger management classes. But after 4 years, James was transferred to another prison. He would never see Ray again. Before he left however, Ray admitted the Lord had instructed him to disciple James. James would also attest that Ray's discipleship began his calling to shepard the lives of Gods children.

When James arrived at the next prison, he was exposed to TUMI (The Urban Ministry Institute). Although it took him a year to be admitted, he began taking TUMI classes. By the time he was eligible for parole, James had completed 7 TUMI modules. In 2012, he patrolled and took up work as a plumber, but James still had a desire to teach God’s word. He continued his TUMI training at a local church in Riverside, CA., but being an ex-felon, he saw no ministries willing to move him toward a pastoral position. He applied to work at a local church, but they didn’t feel comfortable appointing an ex-offender to as a church leader. So James began leading Bible studies at his home, but no churches would partner with him or promote it.

In 2014, James went to the Men’s SIAFU retreat at The Oaks camp. There he heard Paul Chan share his vision for a leadership training home specifically designed for ex-offenders. Paul recognized that many churches aren't properly equipped to lead ex-offenders into pastoral roles. But he also recognized that a certain ex-offenders are exactly what urban communities need as Christian leaders. They are men who have experienced drugs, violence, gangs, addiction and prison time. But more importantly, they've experienced a radical transformation in Christ. Paul envisioned a Men’s Pastoral training home that would be connected to a local urban church. This would be a place were men coming out of prison can complete their TUMI training, be discipled by a local Pastor and gain experience ministering and serving at a church.  This was the first time James had heard of a ministry specifically seeking someone like him! James introduced himself to Paul after the conference and World Impact leaders began meeting with James regularly.

It’s now 2015, and James is the the first house manager of World Impact's first pastoral training home. Based on Paul’s vision spoken a year earlier, James agreed to quit his job and move up north to Richmond CA., where he would live and work next to a local church. Under the supervision of the local pastor, he serves daily in the church, continues to take TUMI classes, leads Bibles studies, and even preaches sermons when the senior pastor is away. Most recently, a second man, Anthony, has joined the house. He too had a radical transformation in prison and had taken TUMI classes. Now James serves as a disciple to Anthony, and this model of cultivating "Prisoners to Pastors" has begun to take shape. This would not be possible without the support and services of World Impact, Serving California, and Associate Pastors like Aaron Roy (in Richmond, CA.). The end result is to grow and plant more churches in high crime urban areas, with the knowledge that heathly churches reduce crime and violence. In two years, James is expected to plant a church, and begin another pastoral training home at that church.