Smithton Baptist Church sees jail ministry blessed
Seen 42 baptisms since Bible studies resumed in June
By Brian Koonce
November 29, 2005
SEDALIA – In an ideal world, a stint in jail is not only a time of punishment; it’s a time of reform and change. If the 42 baptisms in the Pettis County Jail this year are any indication, there are some major life changes going on.
Smithton Baptist Church began a weekly Bible study in the county jail in June of 2002. Pastor Ron Griffith would visit and pray with the inmates three to four days a week. The Pettis County jail houses about 100 inmates, some serving sentences from days to months and longer.
“The Bible studies went really well,” Griffith said. “We took cookies and Bibles each week to give out. After awhile we would walk in and jokingly say, ‘Here are your cookies!’ The inmates would tell us that they didn’t care about the cookies. They wanted what we were really there to give them.”
The guards would bring all the inmates who wanted to come to the Bible study to one room.
“We would teach a little bit, give them ‘homework’ and go over it with them,” he said.
The Bible studies hummed along until 2004 when Pettis County built a new jail. Along with the new facility came new regulations and new red tape. At least temporarily, the Smithton ministry was not able to continue. The change behind bars was noticeable, and it was not just because the inmates were hungry for more cookies. Not only the inmates, but the guards wanted the Bible studies back.
“They told us that while the ministry was going on, it was a much more peaceful environment,” Griffith said. “They enjoyed their jobs more. While we were not there, there was a tremendous change in the inmates.”
The county finally reopened its doors to the Bible studies again in January of this year with the election of a new sheriff, Kevin Bond.
“I feel like the jail ministry was really the major issue in the race,” Griffith said.
As the weekly Bible studies continued, Griffith said one inmate who had received Christ expressed a desire to be baptized. With the permission of the jail, they borrowed a tank from a feed and farm supply store and set it up in the jail shower for a solitary baptism. As the Bible studies continued, 11 more received Christ and said they wanted to be baptized.
“There have been 42 salvations and baptisms,” Griffith said. “God is doing a great work.”
In a jail that holds around 100 inmates, as many as 40 will show up for the Bible studies. The number is so large that the jailers insisted on splitting the Bible studies in two groups.
Smithton and several other area churches who have joined with the Pettis County Jail ministry are looking into the possibility of continuing to minister in Sedalia as the inmates are released: a Christian half-way house of sorts, something to help ensure the change brought about in their lives is nurtured.
“Many of these are tossed back into society with nothing,” Griffith said. “They’ve got no families, no jobs, no home, no where to go. In jail at least they have a bed and three meals. It’s just an idea we’re thinking about. It’s just a way to continue showing God’s love.”