SC Baptists Meet Needs, Spread Gospel with Inmate Packets
South Carolina Baptists provided 25,266 prisoner packets, which reached every inmate in the state this holiday season. On December 4, at St. Andrews Church in Columbia, about 130 volunteers and inmates processed and bagged the packets for delivery. They were distributed the following day to adult inmates in the South Carolina Department of Corrections and the Department of Mental Health, and 460 packets were given to youth and students in the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Now in its 41st year, the project supports the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s (SCBC) priority to serve the lost and share the hope of the gospel with every life in South Carolina and beyond. Churches and associations collect complete packets, which contain a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, washcloth, mints, pad of paper, pen, and pre-stamped envelopes. On assembly day, devotional and prayer books, Christmas cards, and literature are added to each plastic zippered bag.
According to Tim R., SCBC missions mobilization team leader, the packets represent support for inmates and plant seeds for when they return to society. “It raises awareness for our churches concerning the needs of incarcerated individuals and their families and provides a simple way to give and serve.”
Larry Epps, senior chaplain at the Perry Correctional Institution and member of Rock Springs Church in Easley, says that as he delivers the packets to his inmates, he makes a point to say it’s from South Carolina Baptists, including those from their hometowns. “The packets are an outward expression of the love I have for these men; they enhance the morale of the institution and give chaplains the opportunity to share the gospel,” Epps says.
This was the 11th year one female inmate served at the packet assembly, a privilege she calls a ‘treat.’ “It brings me joy to know that people on the outside have not forgotten us and still care,” she says.
Through her work with a local attorney, Tracy Sutton, of Riverland Hills Church in Irmo, says she’s in regular contact with the inmate population but volunteered on assembly day to be a part of something good. “Some are incarcerated for bad mistakes, but all deserve to know someone loves them,” she says.
Tim Jones has seen the packets donated through his church, Fellowship Baptist in Lexington, for years. Now, as a chaplain with the Broad River Correctional Institution, he sees where those packets go. “It is a testimony of ‘you visited me in prison,’ and to fulfill that personally is awesome,” Jones says.
For Senior Chaplain Steven Hendricks, also at Broad River, the packet ministry represents why he is a chaplain. “It provides hope to the hopeless inmate. Some of my guys don’t even have access to soap or a new toothbrush until this time each year,” he says.
“The packet lasts me for a month, and it gives a sense of freedom to have a better choice in the products we have access to,” says one male inmate helping at the assembly day. He adds that he knows many inmates who don’t receive anything else during the holidays and sees how much the items are appreciated by them.
Dianne Cagle drove three and a half hours from her home in North Carolina to be a part of the assembly process this year because of the spiritual impact it has on inmates. “These packets contain basic needs but show that God is also important,” says Cagle, who first participated in the prisoner packet ministry while serving as a short-term missionary with the Lexington Association.
“The volunteers enjoy serving alongside inmates and chaplains processing the packets. I get to hear them laugh, sing, and share their story with one another at the tables as they are working. Southern Baptists are strongest when we partner together to serve our neighbor and share the Good News of Jesus,” Tim R. says.
As Steve Miller, chaplain with Kershaw Correctional Institution and pastor of Team Church in Kershaw, puts it, the packets simply “make people feel human, that they matter, that Jesus loves them, and that His church does, too.”