Connections: David Skaggs
Finding Blessing in Serving
Assemblies of God Chaplain David Skaggs ministered to juveniles in California for 35 years before being reassigned to an adult population last year. Skaggs, 59, is now at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif., after serving more than three decades at the recently closed Preston Youth Correctional Facility nearby. He spoke with Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy about the frustrations and rewards of chaplaincy ministry.
evangel: What is the biggest change you noticed in your career as a chaplain to youth?
SKAGGS: There have been changes in the degree of their criminal activity. The types of crimes that are committed are much more severe. Most juveniles involved now are entrenched in gangs from an early age. For many, gangs have replaced the family structure.
evangel: Is there a correlation between the increase in crime and the decrease in Christianity?
SKAGGS: There is much less understanding of religion than when I first started. Many youth have no understanding at all of any spiritual context. When I started, mom was the mainstay. Then it moved to the grandmother who cared for them, and if the juvenile had any religious influence, it came from the grandmother. Now even that has deteriorated. There is a great void of any spiritual involvement.
evangel: Is there a related fallout from that?
SKAGGS: Many have been involved with drugs from an early age. The mother may have neglected the child while very young. There probably have been a lot of fights in the home. The mother’s boyfriend, influenced by alcohol, often severely beat the boy.
evangel: How have budget cuts impacted the juvenile justice system in California?
SKAGGS: It’s not a good situation for our young people. There were 11 state facilities at one time and now there are two, and those probably will be removed as well. It’s all shifted to the county level, but counties can’t offer what the state once did.
evangel: Despite all this, are there any signs of hope?
SKAGGS: The hope is that churches around county facilities will assist. Most counties don’t have a paid chaplain position in the jails.
evangel: Why did you become a chaplain?
SKAGGS: It didn’t come from my own initiative. I was pastoring in the community where Preston was located, and I had an older gentleman in the congregation who volunteered at the institution. He came to me and asked, “Pastor, have you thought about volunteering at Preston?”
On three occasions I gave him wonderful excuses that came to mind. When I saw him coming up my driveway to ask a fourth time, my wife said, “Why don’t you go with him once, then you can tell him it doesn’t fit.” I went, fully intending to give Jack a final “no” after the night was over. The problem was, it fit. I began to help and visit on a weekly basis. After five years I was appointed the full-time chaplain.
There are some wonderful things that take place behind these walls. I’ve seen a lot of young men who now are actually pastoring churches. I keep in contact with a number who are a dear blessing to me.
evangel: So you have been blessed as both a volunteer and a paid chaplain.
SKAGGS: Yes, and my heart is tied more in with adults now. It’s an honor to be able to serve them. There is nothing like somebody who has seen the horribleness of their sin and then experienced the grace of God. It brings an additional gratitude. There are many who say openly, “I do not deserve what God has given to me in this second chance.”
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