VAN ZANDT, Texas (KLTV) - The Van Zandt County Justice Center is wrapping up one month of their revived jail ministry program. The goal is to keep inmates from returning to jail and help better themselves for during and after their time is served.
Van Zandt county Sheriff Steve Hendrix says the inspiration came when he met with Sheriff Lewis Tatum of Hopkins county. They spoke about the success the ministry is having within Hopkins county. Also, that it’s believed to be a major factor in seeing a drop in people return to the county jail, as well as a decrease in crime rate by about two-thirds. Sheriff Hendrix said the ministry was a program a few years ago under a different administration, but he was sold on bringing it back.
“My goal is so when they leave here they don’t come back,” said Sheriff Hendrix.
To help make that a reality the Van Zandt County Justice Center reintroduced their jail ministry program for inmates who want to learn more about what it means to be Christian -- they’re just about to wrap up week four of their bible studies.
“I think the first time we had twelve people in here and they came up and shook my hand and hugged me afterward and said ‘wow we needed this!’” said Lieutenant Rob Best, the man who leads the ministries every week.
Each ministry is usually in the form of a bible study centered around one topic. The men are given bibles in both English and Spanish, writing materials and books. They’ve touched on things like forgiveness and whether evil truly exists in the world.
“I want it to be something that fills a void in their life while they’re here, and provide them the incentive they need to have that Christian walk and believe in morals and values for when they get out and get a new opportunity to start over,” said Lt. Best.
He said he’d always felt a calling to minister -- Lt. Best explained how it comes from his grandfather who was a devout Methodist minister. Although he felt an urge to volunteer and help lead the jail ministry, he said he was reluctant to come forward.
“You know being just an ordinary man. I’m not an ordained minister, I’m just an average Shmoe out here who’s been blessed with the love of the Lord,” said Lt. Best.
Then, during their second weekly ministry, he got the opportunity to baptize inmates who volunteered. Lt. Best said this Sacramental ceremony was a symbolic step for the men to confess their faith in front of their peers and to commit to correcting their lives.
They had everything they needed within the jail without even realizing it. Sheriff Steve Hendrix told us the baptismal had sit in the county justice center for years, untouched. When the inmates heard there was an opportunity to be baptized, a few of them, including Mark Simms, got everything they needed together. They found baptismal, cleaned it and filled it with heated water ready for the ceremony.
“I asked god about it.. And I just needed to rededicate myself to him, and I was excited about it,” said Sims.
Mark Sims has been in the Van Zandt county jail since December of last year and he’s recently become a trustee within the facility. Sims and three of his peers volunteered to be baptized by Lt. Best, who calls it “the ultimate accomplishment.”
Sheriff Hendrix hopes to take them to area church services during the week.
“We have a lot of local churches that would like to get involved, but with all of the COVID restrictions we were unable to allow that to happen.”
They’re working on a plan right now to partner with local churches and increase their meetings. The Sheriff says this isn’t just an additional program, but rather a focal point at to help inmates who want the help on a spiritual level.
They ask for anyone who has any Christian books at home to please donate them to the jail ministry. You can donate by dropping the books in the front of the Van Zandt County Justice Center.