Connections: Daniel Odean
Apr. 27, 2014
Effective Ministry in the World of Prison Chaplains
Assemblies of God Chaplain Daniel Odean has been with the Federal Bureau of Prisons for two decades, including the past four years as supervisory chaplain at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo. Odean, 53, recently sat down with Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy.
evangel: You’ve served in a variety of settings. Regardless of location, what commonalities do you see among prisoners?
DANIEL ODEAN: I’ve been in an urban setting in a Chicago high-rise that was like a federal jail with people arrested right off the street; a long-term penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.; a deportation center in Oakdale, La.; and now the Springfield medical center. Although there are different missions and styles, there are absolute commonalities: overarching loneliness, depression, and separation from families.
evangel: How can churchgoers help those in prison?
ODEAN: Just as with any other missionary, chaplains cannot do what we do without the supporting prayer of the local body that sends us out. People give of their finances for Bibles and the Pentecostal Evangel, which are powerful tools to place into the hands of inmates. Our racks used to be flooded with religious literature, but many organizations have cut back on donated materials. However, the Pentecostal Evangel remains and is highly requested and appreciated.
I’ve been amazed over the years to see the self-sacrifice of people volunteering their time to minister to inmates. Volunteers can provide a positive role model and spiritual leadership when prisoners know they are not being paid to be there.
evangel: What can chaplains do for prisoners that volunteers can’t?
ODEAN: Full-time chaplains are there throughout the week, and able to establish long-term relationships with inmates. By knowing their background and by being available, we are able to pastor and counsel them, ministering to their needs.
evangel: Do you see spiritual interest among inmates rising, falling, or staying the same?
ODEAN: Pessimistically, I see an unchurched generation coming in, and there is no foundation for chaplains to build upon. But I’m optimistic at the same time. People are still getting saved, baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit.
I also see many inmates gravitating to unfamiliar religions. Chaplains didn’t have to deal with some of these in the not-so-distant past, but they have become more mainstream in prison. Constitutionally, we have to accommodate them.
evangel: So Christianity is facing more competition these days for inmates’ attention.
ODEAN: Chaplains must be fair and equitable in approach. We must find a way to see that inmates can practice their free exercise of religion in an appropriate manner. As a chaplain I see a broad range of religious perspectives.
As a Christian chaplain, while I’m not allowed to proselytize, I can still be a support person for non-Christians. When interest in their religion diminishes, many find Jesus. Inmates do clip the salvation coupons in the Pentecostal Evangel and send them in, which in turn are forwarded to chaplains for follow-up.
evangel: Why should Christians care about inmates, even those who have no chance of being released?
ODEAN: People should care because there is no greater way to change the life of a person than the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus can change hearts. Most inmates come back into society; only a small portion stay in prison. We as a society have a vested interest in trying to make a difference in their lives. They will work at our job sites and live in houses around the corner.