Shirley Beatty is Prison Fellowship’s field director for North Carolina and Southern Virginia. In the following article, she recounts a recent visit to the Mountain View Correctional Institution in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, as part of the “One Day with God” program.
“One Day with God” camps began with the vision of a day inside prison walls where a parent and their child could reconcile with one another and spend time together with God-anointed mentors working beside them. These children and their parents are treated to a day filled with games, crafts, food, music, entertainers and quiet time with their dad or mom. These are days that place a parent/child relationship above their circumstances.
This year I attended three North Carolina “One Day with God” camps with program founder Scottie Barnes and her organized team at Forgiven Ministries. The camp includes fun activities, evangelistic performers, and special parent/child “quiet times.” At each camp that I attended I watched children enter prison, nervous and at the same time excited about how their day in prison with their parent would feel and what it would be like. Then, I watched as those same children exited the prison at the end of their day with smiles on their faces, love in their heart, and completely satisfied with the experience—just the way God wants us all to feel each day of our lives spent with Him.
Every volunteer has an active role to play. At my first two camps I was a “runner”—filling up helium balloons, helping children with bathroom breaks and everything in between. Then, as a volunteer at Mountain View Correctional Institution in April; I was honored to be a mentor to a father and son for the day. A mentor shadows the parent and child; waiting on them, encouraging them, and being a friend to them.
I was matched with a nine-year-old boy who had not seen his dad in two years. I felt acutely aware of just how long two years is for a boy to be away from his father. Jacob was initially withdrawn and quiet. I attempted to draw him into a conversation at First Baptist Church in Spruce Pine where we started our day, he politely answered my questions. He didn’t want to eat the breakfast that was provided by the men’s group at the church either. I wanted him to know that I was happy to share this day with him and his dad and at the same timed didn’t want to be intrusive with my new friend.
We rode to the prison in the church bus; sitting next to other children and their mentors. He became more relaxed and shared that he had three dogs and loved to fish! He told me that he gets to talk to his dad regularly and that he missed him.
We were processed through security and waited patiently to be escorted to the gym for the day’s activities. How he lit up when he saw his dad for the first time! It was almost as time had stood still for them since seeing each other last and they picked up where they had left off.
Mentors cheered their families on during the team challenge games—children and their parents playing together; trying to bring “home” a win for their team! As the day went on they journaled, had their pictures taken on the church pastor’s motorcycle, and enjoyed a lunch provided by Prison Fellowship and Forgiven Ministries. I was blessed to serve them and watch them share their meal.
As the day went on, the boy’s dad confided in me that his grandfather was a pastor and that he himself was a believer, but that he had not obeyed the law and understood that he needed to pay the consequence. He shared that he has marketable skills and that upon release his goal is to work within God and man’s law.
It was clear to me that both father and son shared a walk in faith; Jacob wearing an “I love Jesus” wristband. How fortunate for them that their faith supports them through their separation.
At the close of the day and when it was time to part they couldn’t take their eyes off of one another. Dad at one end of the room and Jacob and I waiting to be escorted out; they craned their necks to see one until the last moment possible. I can’t begin to tell you what an honor it was to spend time with this family; to feel like part of their story if only for this day with God.
To learn more about getting involved in serving prisoners and their families, visit our action page at www.prisonfellowship.org/action.