Connections: Ed Roberts
April 28, 2013
Chaplain to the World
For the past three years, Ed Roberts, 57, has been chaplain at Moshannon Valley Correctional Institution in Philipsburg, Pa. The Geo Group, the world's largest provider of private correctional detention facilities, operates the prison. Roberts, an Assemblies of God chaplain, recently spoke with Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy.
evangel: Why did you decide to work in a privatized prison?
ED ROBERTS: I had retired from the Federal Bureau of Prisons after 20 years, and I received a call from the warden at Moshannon Valley. I prayed about it and really felt led of the Lord. It was a promotion from being a regional chaplain administrator because it is an immigration institution. Nearly everybody here is going to be deported.
I went from having influence over the northeastern United States to having influence everywhere. We’re training men to be pastors and leaders in churches in the entire world.
evangel: What is the role of private prisons in the United States?
ROBERTS: The private prison industry takes inmates from the county, state and federal prison systems. In the case of Moshannon Valley, they are all federal prisoners. We take on the mission of incarcerating inmates waiting out their sentences in the United States before they are deported to their original countries.
evangel: What specifically is your responsibility?
ROBERTS: As the only chaplain at the institution, I take care of the religious needs of all the inmates.
evangel: I imagine those needs are varied.
ROBERTS: The language barrier is greater here than in most prisons. Any time I preach, it’s translated, usually into Spanish.
evangel: Are Christian volunteers able to minister in privatized facilities?
ROBERTS: We still need volunteers for services. But while federal prisons have their own chapels, in private systems we share space and that limits the time we can use volunteers. We still have to follow federal regulations, so we can’t solicit for donations. We have to wait for people to contact us.
We have such a great turnover of inmates that our Bibles are going out the door constantly. Thankfully, the Assemblies of God Chaplaincy Department provides a lot of Bibles for us, and in different languages. Probably the best way to help is to donate to the Chaplaincy Department so they can keep providing Bibles for us. [Secure donations can be made online at s1.ag.org/ed.]
evangel: How did your background help prepare you for this work?
ROBERTS: During my 20 years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I was exposed to different religions. Not too long ago I took a trip with [AG Correctional Chaplaincy ?Ministries representative] Manny Cordero to Uganda, and that prepared me for the African population in prison.
I thank God for all the training at Valley Forge Christian College (Phoenixville, Pa.) and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (Springfield, Mo.). Only God knew what I was going to run into in prison.
evangel: What does the church look like inside Moshannon?
ROBERTS: There is a vibrant church inside the prison. We have 150 guys come to services, and they are spiritually alive. I often joke we have the razor fence up to keep the deadbeats out.
We’re training missionaries. When they are here for a year, two years or three years, we don’t have to go to the mission field. A number of guys already are pastoring churches in South America. I hope to stay in this prison a long time.