Forgiveness. Hope. Love. Strength.
These are the simple prayers lifted up by teenagers living in a detention center near Siler City.
In an effort to promote rehabilitation, the prison is called the Chatham Youth Development Center. The facility has room for 32 juveniles serving time for misdemeanor and felony offenses.
Twice a month, I carpool to the center with Pardoned by Christ volunteers who meet with the young people for a time of fellowship and prayer. It’s quite possibly the best two hours of my week.
Kym Miller is one of my buddies in the group; we meet at Hope Chapel in Apex to share a ride to the center. We use the travel time to review prayer requests and ensure our Bible study reflects the needs of the youth.
Miller started working with girls in prisons about 10 years ago and has volunteered at the Chatham Youth Development Center since it opened in 2008.
The memory of being told, “If only you Christians had gotten to me first” keeps Miller going back.
“I am blessed by helping the girls and try to help them focus on God,” said Miller, 44, of Cary.
About a month ago, some of the young people expressed an interest in getting baptized. They had the opportunity to meet with prison chaplains to complete a study of the religious ceremony.
Chaplain John Gullet explained to the group that baptism is a tangible expression of what has taken place in your heart when you believe that Christ died for your sins. The idea of becoming spiritually free by believing in Christ resonated with 17 of the teens.
Donald Burns, director of the center, led the effort to invite volunteers and family for a water baptism on June 9. This was the first time a ceremony was offered at the center. In the past, a smaller number of juveniles wanted to be baptized, and they could be transported to a nearby church.
“It’s a great example of the community and state agencies working to meet the needs and requests of youth,” Burns said.
Michael Shank of Cary, founder of the Pardoned by Christ ministry, baptized the youth in the gym.
Shank knows what it’s like to be incarcerated. He served more than 3 1/2 years in prison for trafficking cocaine. He was pardoned by former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt in 2001 and has dedicated much of his time to prison ministry.
As the youths were baptized earlier this month, cheers from the audience echoed off the walls of the small room. There were smiles and a towel for the teens to dry off with before receiving a certificate.
“A lot of people who observed the kids before this day would say there’s no hope,” Shank said. “Now, there is hope that they are dedicating themselves to positive change.”
Moving forward, the challenge will be to help the teens embrace a new lifestyle when they are released from prison.
“Many boys recently admitted that the macho thing now is having as many kids with as many women as you can,” Shank said.
The need for volunteers to help with the ministry is great.
“No doubt, without a role model and a mentor, the teens will produce another generation that will be incarcerated,” Shank said.