By Jessica Brodie
SIMPSONVILLE—One church in the Upstate is donating more than $230,000 to build a fully furnished house where people released from prison can live while they get their lives back on track.
Advent United Methodist Church raised the funds through its 2020 Love Your Neighbor As Yourself Challenge, which encouraged people to cut their Christmas spending in half and give the other half to a Christmas Eve offering to benefit JUMPSTART, a statewide prison ministry based out of Spartanburg.
JUMPSTART is a 40-week in-prison discipleship program designed to not only develop and grow the faith of current inmates, but prepare them for re-entry once they are released from prison.
In addition to the inside program, they offer housing and employment assistance for those who need it on the outside, including a one-year transitional housing program. They are also developing a new community housing effort called Restoration Village, a 26-acre hub on the Greenville-Spartanburg county line that will not only offer a place for recently incarcerated men and women to live and learn how to adjust to life outside prison, but also serve as a place where other organizations can learn how to replicate a similar effort in their own states.
Advent UMC funds will build a six-bedroom house in Restoration Village, and Advent senior pastor the Rev. Michael Turner has dubbed it “the house that Advent built.”
“I can’t say how proud I am of this congregation,” Turner said. “In a year where there have been so many disruptions, where there is so much economic uncertainty and anxiety—I know people lost jobs and I know people who have been furloughed at different points along the way—still you’ve been so generous with $230,000.”
JUMPSTART Executive Director Tommy Moore said he is so grateful for the congregation’s incredible generosity.
“Think of how many generations this will impact,” Moore said.
Currently, Moore said, a prison bus lets off recently released former inmates at a gas station and convenience store on Woodruff Road in Greenville County with nothing beyond used clothing given to them by the prison and a state-issued prison identification. But for those in JUMPSTART, they have a different experience. Not only do they learn about Jesus in prison, but when they are released, someone walks the journey with them, helping them fully transition to life on the outside so they don’t wind up back in prison again.
Now, with Restoration Village and the house Advent built, Moore said, “This is going to mean safety, an expression of love, that we care for you, and this is going to a chance for people to put their feet on the ground and walk a little farther.”
JUMPSTART has a 96 percent success rate. Currently, they are in 16 of South Carolina’s 23 prisons, two in Alabama, one in Georgia, and soon in Ohio, too.
Why is this ministry important?
Moore said there are 16,000 men and women incarcerated in South Carolina, and every month between 600 and 800 people are released.
“The right question is not, ‘Are they getting out?’ The right question is, ‘Where will they go, where will they worship and work? Are we creating a community welcoming to those who have paid their price to society, engaged personally with Jesus only to be left on their own to fend for themselves?’”
Moore said coming alongside those who are currently and formerly incarcerated is not top of mind for most people.
“However, we literally have thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ behind razor wire who, without our help, stand little chance of successfully re-engaging as a parent, employee or member of the community,” Moore said.
Advent UMC brought in a large Love Your Neighbor As Yourself offering in 2014, garnering $260,000 to build five “bridge homes” to help homeless families get out of emergency shelter and back on their feet. They wanted to do another big effort this year, and in August, they met with leaders from various Greenville nonprofits to discern the community’s needs, ultimately identifying affordable housing as Greenville’s ongoing greatest need. They began to explore a partnership with JUMPSTART Prison Ministry, impressed with its focus on Jesus and its success rate.
“Too often we treat Christmas as if it’s our birthdays, a time of self-indulgence,” Turner said. With the Love Your Neighbor As Yourself effort, “We are trying to remind ourselves that Christmas is really about Jesus’ birth. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate that than to be obedient to his Greatest Commandment—to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. We want to do that in a very tangible way this Christmas.”
The help Advent is giving JUMPSTART is an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of the formerly incarcerated and the broader community into which they will return, Turner said.
“The question is not, ‘Will these folks be released from prison?’ Most of them absolutely will be. The question is, ‘Will we help them to experience God’s grace and transformation before and after their release?’ We definitely want the answer to be yes.”
‘Angels in disguise’
Several formerly incarcerated men and women expressed thanks for the help Advent and JUMPSTART are providing.
“I honestly thought when I got arrested and went to prison my life was over. … I didn’t have hope,” said Elizabeth, a JUMPSTART participant. Now she sees a brighter future.
“Just because someone’s incarcerated doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. Things happen to us, and we all deserve a second chance, and sometimes we just need a little help to get back on our feet.”
Steven, also a JUMPSTART participant, called those who volunteer and otherwise help the program “God’s angels in disguise.”
“The imprint in my heart will be for a lifetime. It’s part of my testimony,” he said.
To learn more about JUMPSTART, visit https://www.jumpstartvision.org or engage with them on Facebook at https://www.
facebook.com/JumpStartMinistry. You can also watch a video Advent made on this at https://youtu.be/RBPlYlS4MJI.