December 4, 2018

Local Church Ministry Works to Connect Inmates With Their Children

For the past three years, the members of Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church in Mansfield, Louisiana, United States, have sponsored a community event they have affectionately dubbed, “A Day With Dad.”

Richard Fuller, head deacon of Memorial church and CEO of Uncle Richard's House puppet ministry, was invited to participate in a community event sponsored by another ministry called Forgiven Ministry of Taylorville, North Carolina. Essentially, the vision of this ministry was to reduce prison recidivism by reconciling inmates with their families. The hope is that these familial reunions might facilitate healing for their emotional wounds and give birth to a renewed desire in the inmates to one day be reintegrated into their homes and communities as productive members of society.

After working with and observing this beneficent organization for several years, Fuller, who also serves as an elected Police Juror, felt impressed that a similar program would be a tremendous benefit to families in his community. His wife, Debbie, a middle school principal, was also acutely aware of the positive impact such a redemptive program could have on her at-risk students. Inspired by their experience with Forgiven Ministry, they crafted a similar vision for their local community and presented it to their Memorial church family for adoption. The idea was unanimously voted and enthusiastically received.

Spending Time With Incarcerated Fathers

At least three times each year, members of the Memorial church spend many hours praying, planning, and preparing for children within targeted communities to spend a few cherished moments with their incarcerated fathers, enjoying fun-filled activities, delicious food, and familial fellowship. Teachers within Memorial's congregation assist the church in identifying children in the community who come from families with an incarcerated father, based on their knowledge of the students they teach. They also enlist the aid of other teachers in the community, as well as other civic groups and churches, to partner with them in hosting this remarkable event. 

Outfitted in color-coded shirts, the staff, children, and fathers are treated to a range of activities including table games, outdoor baseball, arts, crafts, face-painting, puppet shows, motivational speakers, musical selections, and dining. The fathers are also afforded an opportunity to bond with their daughters by having their first dance together and with their sons by teaching them how to tie a necktie. They encourage their kids to become responsible men and women and avoid making the mistakes they did. 

The evening before the event, men from the Memorial church visit the inmates and conduct a seminar entitled, “Godly Dads.” The purpose of the seminar is to teach them what it means to be a respectable man and a responsible father. While at the prison, the members teach the fathers how to tie a necktie, if they don’t already know how, in preparation for the bonding time with their sons. Fathers must also complete an application by answering a vital question: Why do I want to participate in the program? 

A Program for Guardians

While the children are in one location fellowshipping with their fathers, their guardians are in a nearby location being feted with the same program and activities so that the guardians can experience for themselves what the children are experiencing with their fathers.

“We applaud the dedication of the Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church family and their commitment to uplifting their community,” said leaders of the Southwest Region Conference, which includes the state of Louisiana. “This spirited fellowship of 50 active members is a sterling testament to the fact that even small churches can have a big impact upon their local communities when it’s in the heart to do so!”

The original version of this story was published in the November/December 2018 issue of the Southwestern Union Record.