Conversation: Chaplain Wally Nelson
Joining a ministry team
Wally Nelson has been an Assemblies of God prison chaplain
for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for 14 years. He is now a regional
chaplain, super-vising chaplaincy programs in the 22 units of the Central Texas
region. Nelson recently spoke with Assistant Editor Jennifer McClure.
tpe: How can churches help released offenders re-enter
NELSON: Some people have a home to go back to or a community
when they are released. But most of them came out of a very poor home
environment to begin with. There are halfway houses, but regardless of where
released offenders go, they’re going to need a job.
Businessmen in a church who want to have a ministry can make
it known that they will hire ex-offenders. That doesn’t mean they hire
everybody who comes along. You have to use discernment.
Churches can be aware of halfway houses in the area, be
accepting and offer jobs or support. I would caution against giving handouts.
That’s not the way you lead people to live productively.
tpe: How can the local church support prison chaplains?
NELSON: Chaplains can feel isolated from the church because
our whole role is invested in the prison. One man alone may be in charge of
1,000 people. There are no churches that are run like that. So we get very
isolated, and we don’t get to mix with other people as much as we would like
outside our prison environment. Churches who are aware of that can just be
supportive of the chaplain and the chaplain’s family and include them in the
tpe: What can volunteers do to help prison chaplains?
NELSON: Everything. Volunteers who work with individual
chaplains will soon see many ways they can help. For example, volunteers in
Texas, once cleared, can come into prisons and do church services, Bible
studies or be counselors.
tpe: For those considering a volunteer ministry in the
prison system, of what should they be aware?
NELSON: Working in prisons is a calling. Volunteers need to
be consistent in what they do. They need to be spiritually and emotionally
whole themselves. Some people want to come into a prison and minister because
they have an emotional or spiritual need themselves. This is not the place to
try to meet that need.
You have to be aware of spiritual warfare on an ongoing
basis. But if you’re positive and recognize that greater is He who is in us
than He who is in the world (1 John 4:4), you can go with confidence and see
people set free.
tpe: What are the first steps to volunteering to help a
NELSON: After discerning that this is God’s calling on their
lives, prospective volunteers should talk to their pastor first. Then they
should find out where there is a prison where they feel called to go, call that
prison and ask for the chaplain. If the prison doesn’t have a chaplain, they
can ask for the program director.
tpe: How does Christian literature like TPE benefit inmates?
NELSON: With a lot of time on their hands, many are looking
for something to read. They pick up magazines, like Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel, all of the time. The Pentecostal Evangel is unique in that it is a way
for the Pentecostal message to be propagated in people’s lives even if they
don’t have an opportunity to hear that truth publicly.
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