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Jail Ministry Stories 


In order to have a hope and a future in this NEW YEAR, in order to have a second chance when the darkness keeps whispering in the ear, one must realize the need to leave the past behind, in order to press into a Higher Calling.   Listen as a jail detainee puts it in his own words. 

I awake this morning with my heart at ease
A comfortable feeling, one of love and peace
For my mind is clear now and my thinking straight
And I have come to accept my life and fate
Before I fought it and denied my own truth
Now I can only look and honestly say, Thank YOU

For it took you destroying me and breaking my heart
Before I could move on and try a life with a new start
Now, I have found that you never truly cared
And that alone in itself was a heavy cross to bear

However, a light from above eased my very soul 
As HE took my pain in order to lighten my load
God used the perils in my very own life
As I went through hell with my grief and strife

HE guided me on every dark and lonely road
Being my light and comforting my heart and soul
Through pain and heartache, came my peace of mind
As HE showed me how to let you go and LEAVE you BEHIND

                                                                                      By Sprocket

— Reverend Vanessa L. James, M.Div., Jail Ministry Director

Because of rising COVID-19 numbers, the Buncombe County Detention Facility suspended all volunteer programs. That means the ABCCM faith-based volunteers who have been leading Bible studies with detainees has been stopped again for now.

The month of July saw the beginning of Bible study groups being led by ABCCM volunteers at seven different times and places in the jail. All volunteers have been notified of the temporary suspension along with our thanks for their dedicated service.

Chaplains James and Johnson are allowed into BCDF with the following conditions: we must wear masks at all times and may not go on the detainee housing unit floors to visit with, pray with or deliver reading materials. We do received requests for reading materials and visits via the computer kiosk on each unit.

Chaplain visits are arranged with housing unit officers who bring detainees to the attorney visitation booth and we can have confidential conversations by phone, seeing each other through the glass panel.

Please keep detainees and officers in your prayers. The BCDF is very short-staffed right now so current officers are carrying heavy loads.

In Nancy Hastings Sehested’s book “Marked for Life: A Prison Chaplain’s Story” she quotes from Richard Rohr:
“There are not sacred and profane things, places and moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places and moments – and it is we alone who desecrate them by our own blindness and lack of reverence.”

Chaplains James and Johnson believe that Jail Ministry is a truly sacred thing, place and moment to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

-Chaplain Don Johnson

Got Fruit?

What makes you angry, upset, wanting to go off on someone? Jesus had one of those moments! He took His anger and frustration out on a little O’ fig tree. Cursing it! Causing it to whither from the roots up. (Read Mark 11: 11-28)

Now certainly the Creator of the heavens and earth knew it was not the season for figs. There had to be another reason for this temper tantrum. We want to explain away this fiery frenzy of fury by our gentle and merciful Jesus as His Righteous Indignation! But then, His out-RAGE continues in the temple as He turns over tables and drives out the merchants.  There has to be some reason … Otherwise we would have to haul Jesus off to some place like the Buncombe County Detention Facility, you know the jail, then to prison, then to Hell.  

Just as chaplains and volunteers must look deeper than the detainees’ charges of violence, abuse, and even murder, the Holy Spirit compels us to look deeper. The intertwining of these two outbursts of anger throughout Mark 11, beckons us to look and hear with the eyes of our hearts to the mysteries hidden in these live parables.  Yes, Jesus was upset about the robbing, conniving, thievery, and fraud. Notice, however, Jesus did not see any FRUIT on the fig tree. So perhaps He was just as, if not more so, upset with what HE did not see in the temple, namely no fruit? Perhaps Jesus heard one of the merchants start singing…a song in the same tune of  “we have no bananas”… “Yes, we have no figs, we have no figs today” and HE went off! 

Deeper still, He saw no Fruit that remained! Read John 15: 1- 17  Days, if not hours from His death, one of the topics Jesus chooses to speak about with His disciples was fruit?  In those critical, crucial moments leading up to His crucifixion, Jesus included a discussion about fruit?  Lord God, grant revelation of the importance of “fruit.”  Am I a person who is bearing no fruit, more fruit, need to be pruned fruit, much fruit, or fruit that remains?   

In Mark 11, Jesus entered the temple or shall we say a church – a place, space, and or designated activity …where people intentionally pray, worship, declare the Word, fellowship, AND SERVE.  And 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 refers to our individual bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, also. 

– Will the Lord find the fruit of the Spirit in my/our temple? Galatians 5: 22-24
– Will the Lord find the fruit of Righteousness in my/our temple?
Philippians 1: 9-11 & James 3: 13-17
– Will the Lord find the Fruit of Good Works in my/our temple? Colossians 1: 9-12
– Will the Lord find the Fruit of Repentance in my/our temple? Matthew 3: 7- 10
– Will the Lord find the Fruit of His Word in my/our temple? Mark 4:20
– Will the Lord find the Fruit of Disciples in my/our temple? John 15: 8-9

Now IF in Mark 11, Jesus would have declared: “My House Shall Be Called A HOUSE OF FRUIT”, the mystery behind his temper tantrum regarding the fig tree with no fruit, would be somewhat solved. But, we must go even deeper to the ROOT. Remember the tree withered from the ROOTS up. The roots of a Fig tree are very invasive…spreading far and wide, coming up out of the ground, attaching to rocks, other trees, and sometimes hanging in the air; able to trample or choke other plants, damage sidewalks and roadways, and surviving in many unfavorable circumstances. Jesus declaration of His house being a House of Prayer for all Nations, exposes the root of the problem. 

Jesus was looking for the Root of Prayer that is so invasive that it takes territory for the Kingdom; the Root of Prayer that transforms, heals, saves, and delivers; the Root of Prayer that undergirds the spreading of the gospel, taking it beyond the four walls of the temple/ the church, into the streets of our community, city, JAIL, and nation; the Root of Prayer that takes on the principalities of the air; the Root of Prayer from which all the various Fruits of the Spirit, Righteousness, Repentance, Discipleship, etc. sprout and grow strong; and the Root of Prayer for ALL Nations – meaning all ethnicities and cultures.

The Wrath of God, Judgment and Condemnation for a lack of prayer and intercession?
No. Rather a clarion CALL for God’s people to wake up… 

…and humble ourselves and PRAY “and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land”.
II Chronicles 7:14 

Lord we repent on behalf of the church and the nation for not recognizing the value and priority of prayer. Stir us, motivate and inspire us to be in intentional and constant dialogue with You.  May our hearts’ desire be to seek first Your Kingdom Matthew 6: 33 and Seek Your face.  Matthew 5:8 says, blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Purify and prune our hearts so that we may see You for ourselves and see Your presence and glory in our ministries.  But also, create in us clean, pure hearts, so that others will “see You” in us… and want to know You for themselves.

Lord, we repent on behalf of the church and the nation for any and all wicked ways that are contrary to Your Word, will, and way. Wickedness has caused our land to be in need of healing.  But, You say If we will pray, You will hear from heaven and heal. 

Written by the Holy Spirit and Reverend Vanessa L. James

In service with Reverend Don Johnson as Chaplains at the
Buncombe County Detention Facility

Prayer transforms. Prayer makes a difference. One of the primary roles for chaplains and ABCCM volunteers at the Buncombe County Detention Facility is prayer with and for inmates and officers. But with covid19 restrictions in place, that activity has been severely curtailed until now. Chaplain Vanessa James began a program of placing prayer request slips and envelopes outside of inmate wings. Officers make them available to inmates who fill out a “chaplain request form” on one side and then have the option of writing a “prayer request” on the other side. Chaplain James collected these prayer requests and brought them to the first Saturday prayer time at Access Church. Those present were handed prayer request sheets and took time in the service to pray for inmates by name (when given) and offer up prayers out loud. On the first Saturday in March those gathered prayed for 32 inmates.

The requests varied from their cases, sobriety, children, depression, fear, and requests for God’s Word. Getting Bibles to inmates is another task and privilege for chaplains. On the first Saturday in March, a guest showed up. He was now clean and sober and desiring to stay close to God. What touched him deeply while in jail was having his own Bible. So, now employed, he brought twenty-four Bibles for other hungry inmates. The requests for Bibles those gathered prayed for, was answered in that very morning. Prayer transforms. Prayer makes a difference.

Grace & Peace,
Chaplain Don Johnson

A Tribute to Reverend Dr. Norm Sanders

Chaplain Norm (how we all respectfully referred to him) came to ABCCM in 2008 after a 35+ year career with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). We were thrilled to have someone of his stature join ABCCM’s Veterans Restoration Quarters as a Chaplain and then taking the reigns as Director and Chaplain of ABCCM’s Jail Ministry in 2009.

Norm’s early career with BGEA could fill a book of his growth as part of the advance team for Billy Graham Crusades. Norm grew professionally as he progressed from being part of the team to leading teams. This meant being away from home for months at a time. He was supported by his dedicated wife, Cheryl, who would join him on multiple trips after their two sons, Ryan and Tim, grew up and left the nest.

Beloved is one of the many words that comes to mind in describing how Norm was revered by all who worked with him and served with him. His warm and gentle spirit gave an immediate sense of trust and care. His straight-forward and genuine responses based on God’s love, Jesus’ words, and his own insight brought calm to the storms, gave hope to the despairing and made the saving grace of Jesus real to many. He led an untold number to the Lord personally and also worked with church leaders across the nation to help counsel the thousands won to Jesus as his hero and friend, Billy Graham preached.

Chaplain Norm had a powerful impact on clients in the Jail as well as officers at the Jail. He was so gifted at meeting every person, right where they were. The gift of presence with the Holy Spirit gave him a charisma that was unique and impactful. This is why he will be missed so much because his giftedness was equally unique. Over the years, people asked him to officiate at their marriages, funerals, and to repair marriages and homes. Our world, our community, BGEA and ABCCM and his family are better because of how generously he shared the fruit of God’s word and Spirit with his giftedness.

The legacy of Reverend Dr. Norm Sanders cannot adequately be shared in these few paragraphs. I hope our readers will join us in praying for Cheryl, his sons Ryan and Tim and grandchildren. I agree with what I heard that Reverend Bill Solomon said, “When Norm walked into God’s presence, he heard two ‘well dones!’ Norm has joined that great cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12:1 who remind us all that the life of sacrifice and service in the Kingdom is the most meaningful!

Reverend Scott Rogers, Executive Director

Beautiful Feet

Yes we can get pedicures, but some of us still may have ingrown toenails, toe jam, foot fungus, athletes feet, corns and bunions…or just plain aged feet that are no longer baby soft and sweet, cute, smelling good and or beautiful.

Nevertheless, your feet became blessed and beautiful as you brought good news to those at the Jail, this Christmas. Romans 10:15

“I thought volunteers were still forbidden to walk across the threshold of the Jail due to COVID?” Yes, but the Lord heard the cries coming from those behind the gates of the Jail… Even cries from some who have walked in ungodly paths and stood in the way of sinners. Psalm 1

And wanting, once again, to “wash” the feet of even those who denied and betrayed Him, as He did with Judas and Peter who were among the disciples of whom Jesus washed their feet prior to His death, Jesus stirred within hearts to include socks within the Christmas Bags. John 13

Every year, ABCCM prepares bags with simple personal items such as a bar of soap, chap stick, deodorant, and socks to be delivered on Christmas Day to those detained at the Jail. The bags are wonderfully decorated by our children. Due to COVID, there was some question as to if these simple gifts would be allowed. Permission was granted as long as the bags were delivered for isolation and a two week quarantine. Committed individuals to jail ministry responded to this great commission… and with these bags, said as Peter and John to the lame man at the gate called Beautiful, we can’t give you silver and gold… but such as we have… namely these socks, we are giving to you. Acts 3.

Feedback was received from the Lieutenant, “The socks made the biggest difference and were most appreciated”. Now even if those detained could only leap for joy in their new socks in the privacy of their own cell, I am sure there were more whose hearts leaped for joy in receiving this simple gift of love that let them know they were not forgotten by God… nor by the ABCCM community.

And let us not forget the officers and staff in our prayers. Their prayer requests have mainly been in regards to safety and protection from COVID. You are invited to join the monthly prayer gathering for the Jail. For more information, please email.

Written by
Chaplain/Rev. Vanessa L. James vanessa.james@buncombecounty.org