Tony and Cheryl McDonald had a vision. Not a supernatural one, just a hope and a dream of what they trusted the Lord would do in the lives of the prisoners they met with weekly at the Abbeville, SC jail. They had started having Bible studies in the jail shortly after a member of their family spent time in prison and they realized the needs of the men being held awaiting trial and sentencing.
Once the Bible studies were established, primarily using Emmaus courses, they saw some saved, and others hungry for help and direction in their troubled lives. They saw some men come into the jail, go through trial, sentencing and incarceration, and upon release, soon be back in their pre-arrest environment. Many of the same ex-offenders were back in jail after a few weeks, re-arrested for some of the same types of crimes.
Others, especially those that had been saved, tried hard to get away from the friends and problems that led them to jail in the first place. They struggled with finances, lack of education, little personal or community support. This is where the vision came in. What if there were a place close by where they could live, learn personal skills, acquire education and job training, and most of all, grow spiritually in their newfound faith?
The most vivid picture they remembered was when they went to meet the bus bringing their family member from the jail back to the city where they lived. Getting off the bus were released prisoners who had no one to meet them. They had no clothes except the ones they’d worn when arrested; one man was in shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops – in February. Most had no money, and no place to go except back to the “friends” they were with previously.
The McDonalds began attending meetings of a faith-based group (Rebuilding Lives Coalition, Upstate SC) led by Kent McGahey, a chaplain in the Anderson County jails and in fellowship in the Anderson assembly. The immense size of the problem became apparent. Authorities in the field noted the legacy of incarceration on the children of convicts, including generational poverty and anger. Ninety-four percent of prisoners eventually will be returned to society, with most in no way ready for that re-entry. They have needs for education, financial know-how, job training, anger management, conflict resolution and parenting skills. In essence they will return to society in the same condition they were before jail.
Many states are now starting to do something about the problems with training programs in the jails. While this is good, these programs are missing the vital spiritual element. Even though some prisoners have been born again, they still struggle with the effects of addictions, bad habits, and lack of life skills to make a fresh start.
The McDonalds spent weeks and months learning about resources already in place in the community and meeting others in local government, law enforcement, state agencies, group homes, rescue missions and former prisoners who had been saved and had a burden for the re-entry into society of those formerly incarcerated. However, they found there are very few places that can provide safe, structured, spiritually based transitional housing where they could receive Biblical training and grow in the Lord, and where those who are unsaved but seriously desiring help to change, could learn the truth of the Gospel.
Tony and Sheryl also approached the elders of Overbrook Gospel Chapel in Greenville, SC, and shared their vision about setting up a tax-exempt organization with the intent of one day establishing a home that would meet some of the needs they saw so vividly. They received the blessing and encouragement of the brethren and set about forming Shadow of the Rock Ministry.
A great deal of the groundwork has been laid. Tax-exempt status has been granted. With the help of the Board of Directors and the Advisory Board, house rules were established, personal development and spiritual goals were set, budgets were made up for capital expenditures, initial costs, ongoing expenses and operating funds. Fortunately, some of the objectives of the ministry, such as GED, literacy, and job training are already available from other organizations in the area.
Shadow of the Rock Ministry is still in the vision stage. The organization is looking to the Lord for a suitable house, a couple to manage the home, and the necessary funds. Tony and Sheryl, along with members of the board, are praying for this dream to become a reality. •