As the Rev. Walter Smith makes his way through the Howard County Detention Center today, Good Friday, he will give each of the 200-plus inmates an Easter card marked "Dear Friend."
The cards will contain hand-written words of encouragement, such as, "People are thinking about you," and inspirational Scripture verses.
Smith is a part-time chaplain with the Christian Jail Ministry, a local organization that solicited Easter cards from the community to be handed out to inmates.
Most cards filtered in as singles, but occasionally an individual would send three or four cards in one envelope. Gethsemane Baptist Church in Glenwood rallied its members and sent several personalized Easter cards.
Christian Jail Ministry operates on the assumption that faith-based organizations can reduce the crime rate and make communities safer.
Christian holidays are an especially appropriate time to attempt
Christian conversion and encourage prisoners to embrace spirituality.
"Easter is the commemoration of the key aspect of Christianity," said Dale Pace, president of the ministry.
He said Jesus Christ's death on the cross and resurrection are the basis for the Christian hope for salvation.
Ministry workers, with about 300 volunteers from area churches, provide a broad spectrum of activity at the detention center.
The ministry offers inmates Sunday worship services, Bible classes, one-on-one discipleship, Christian 12-step programs and Bible correspondence courses.
Volunteers represent the Christian rainbow: Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Nazarene and nondenominational. They take Hebrews 13: 3 to heart: "Christians should be as concerned for prisoners as if they were prisoners themselves."
The ministry has been reaching out to inmates since the late 1970s. Pace joined the program in 1979 when he was appointed chaplain for the county detention center when the organization was referred to as the Task Force on Christian Ministry and the scope of the program was much smaller.
Incorporated in 1982 as a nonprofit, the jail ministry expanded its involvement in the inmates' lives. The same year, Pace was made president.
The ministry's mission is fueled by the sentiment behind Corinthians 5: 17: "The power of Christ can transform anyone, no matter what that person has been or done."
"There are a number of people whose lives have really turned around and changed," Pace said. "They are drawn to the intangible benefits of what happens inside a person."
The effect resonates throughout the prison as the ministry works with inmates. Inmates who involve themselves in the fellowship tend to view the programs as "useful, entertaining, meaningful," Pace said.
Responding to the inmates' spiritual needs, the jail ministry continues to add programs.
The After Care Program attempts to provide ministry to former inmates and their families during their transition and return to society.
A poetry program, led by published poet Art Milkes, seeks to encourage inmates to express their thoughts and feelings. Inmates may submit one poem a week for Milkes to review.
This is the first year for the Easter card campaign, and Pace expects a positive response as the well-wishing notes are distributed throughout the detention center.
In years past, the ministry has made similar holiday offerings. It has provided greeting cards for inmates to send to their mothers on Mother's Day. At Christmastime, the ministry hands out "goodie" packets stuffed with candy, baked goods and other surprises. "All participation is completely voluntary," said Pace. "Some choose to refuse. Nobody pushes."