Columbia area Baptists spend time at Christmas with juvenile inmates.

For 18 years, Columbia area Baptists have spent Christmas Eve with juvenile inmates.

Tim Brown received the thank-you letter after Christmas.

“Dear Mr. Tim,” the hand-written letter began. After a few sentences thanking Tim and other Columbia area Baptist volunteers for a Christmas Eve visit to Columbia’s State Juvenile Detention Center on Broad River Road, the letter continued.

“My own family won’t even write me, let alone visit on a regular day. But you came here on Christmas Eve. That makes me realize that the world is not only filled with evil and sinful people, but it’s also filled with loving and caring Christians.”

The letter goes on to acknowledge Jesus’ sacrifice for mankind’s sins.

djj-volunteers-photoFor 18 years, Tim Brown and a group of 18-20 Columbia-area Baptists have gone out to the juvenile detention center early on Christmas Eve morning. The volunteers divide into teams and visit each dormitory, bringing Christmas cheer to 100-125 teenagers on the campus. Bert Holland, who, like Tim, is a member of Riverland Hills Baptist Church, dresses as Santa Claus and communicates that the joy of Santa doesn’t compare to the joy found in a relationship with Jesus. Mark Powers, director of worship and music on the South Carolina Baptist Convention staff, brings his guitar to lead Christmas singing. Volunteers give each teenager one of the state convention’s prisoner packets, a Christmas card, and a folded copy of the Christmas Cane Story with an actual candy cane taped to the outside. The Christmas Cane Story, telling the gospel through the colors and curves of the traditional Christmas cane, provides an object lesson as volunteers share the gospel with the inmates.

“It’s been a real blessing for me, personally,” Tim says. It was made even more special this year as two of his grandsons were a part of the volunteers. The thank-you letters are an added blessing.

“I received another letter from a teenage girl that read, ‘You all showed me that God is real. I enjoyed hearing your talk; it made my day 100 percent better. I will be leaving soon and try to be better at prayer and Bible Study. When I go home, I want to push myself to go to church every Sunday.’

“Hopefully, we are planting seeds that will germinate in these young lives,” Tim says. Beyond the 18 years of Christmas Eve visits, Tim is entering his 33rd year of prison ministry volunteerism. A part of that volunteerism has been as a mentor to assigned teenagers.

“Many of these teenagers have never experienced love in their homes,” Tim says. “It gets their attention when you give up time, including Christmas Eve, to go visit with them. And, the Department of Juvenile Justice needs more mentoring volunteers. I just always encourage the teenagers that this is a point in their lives, and it’s not the end for them. There is hope.”

The state convention’s Mark Powers says, “For me, one of the high points of the last 8 years has been the opportunity to visit, lead carol singing, and then present the gospel to these teenagers.

“Soon after moving back to Columbia, I met Tim Brown. Tim invited me to join these Christmas Eve volunteers, and I have done everything possible not to miss it since. The expressions on the faces of the students each year are suspicious at first, but as soon as we start singing and handing out prisoner packets and Christmas cards with candy canes, they warm up to us. Surely the love of Christ lovingly expressed through smiles and gifts is the power that breaks through the hard shell of a lonely teen in a prison cell. I’ve seen it personally time and again each Christmas Eve at the detention center.”

Matthew Morrison, South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice volunteer coordinator, applauds the beyond-the-church-walls volunteerism shown by groups like Riverland Hills, saying, “Volunteer commitment of groups such as Riverland Hills Baptist Church positively touches the lives of the youth that we serve. By offering these moments of happiness and care, we bring hope of brighter futures to our youth and the citizens of South Carolina.”
WRITTEN BY SCOTT VAUGHAN

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