Kathy Radke is quick to tell people, teasingly, she has been in and
out of jail since she was 13 years old. As a teen, she and other members
from her youth group held Sunday afternoon services in an area jail.
Shes been involved in prison ministry ever since.
Heeding the call:
Kathy Radke leads inmates in prayer at the end of a service.
In addition to her responsibilities as an associate minister at Westbank
Cathedral (Assemblies of God) in Marrero, La., Radke serves as the Protestant
chaplain at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center and at the Rivarde
Juvenile Detention Center. Her responsibilities include coordinating
worship services and Bible studies, as well as scheduling volunteers
and area churches to minister at the centers.
The need for prison ministry is increasing as the number of inmates
rises. "The prison population in the U.S. is at more than 2 million,
and its growing," says Alvin Worthley, Institutional and
Occupational Chaplaincy representative for the A/G, who notes that there
are 93 endorsed correctional chaplains in the Fellowship. "It is
one of the largest mission fields in the United States."
"We are fighting crime from the inside out," Radke says.
"Once inmates receive Christ, they become model prisoners. Deputies
can tell the difference. God wipes the slate clean."
Volunteer ministers help chaplains shoulder the load with their involvement
in mentoring and leading church services and Bible studies. "Volunteers
bring a sense of normalcy to a correctional facility," Worthley
says. "They have the opportunity to show by their actions the love
of Christ and proclaim the message. They become models for inmates of
how a Christian handles things that come up in life, showing inmates
an alternative lifestyle."
Radke and other chaplains look for volunteers who are compassionate.
"We want people who have the gift of mercy," she says. "Im
not here because I think everyone is innocent. Im here because
we all need Jesus."
One of the challenges of her ministry, says Radke, is the high turnover
rate at the centers. Each year, more than 2,000 juveniles come through
Rivarde and 36,000 inmates come through Jefferson Parish, which will
soon nearly double its size from 700 to 1,200.
Prison work can be frustrating, says Radke, because the turnover rates
make long-term results difficult to measure. Radke refers those who
desire a life change to Teen Challenge programs for drug and alcohol
rehabilitation. According to Radke, several Teen Challenge students
she has referred now express interest in entering vocational ministry.
Radke says prison ministry is a biblical mandate. "Prisoners have
made horrible mistakes," she says. "Many of them know they
have a problem and are crying out for help prison is one of the
best times to reach them with the message of Christ."
Integrating former prisoners into local churches is also important.
"There has been a revival going on in a number of prisons,"
Worthley says. "But we lose people when we dont know how
to assimilate them [into local churches]."