Encouragement is the Key to Prison Ministry
When Roger Long walked out of prison as a free man, he had his own modern-day Barnabas standing by to help him adjust to his new life. Terry Buice, president and founder of the Lawrenceville-based Barnabas Prison Ministry, was there to be Long's encourager, following the example of the Bible's Barnabas, whose name meant "son of encouragement." In the Bible, Barnabas traveled with Paul as a missionary to the early church. "That's the key to what our ministry is all about, encouraging them [men who are in prison] to be all they can be," Buice said. Long, who served two years for deposit account fraud, demonstrates what a little help can mean. After leaving prison in March, he went to work at two fast-food restaurants and worked his way up to assistant manager at both places. He enrolled in seminary to prepare for a Bible-teaching ministry, and credits Buice and the other volunteers at the Barnabas ministry with making a difference in his life. "Not only are they putting their arms around you while you're in prison," said Long, "but when you come out, they're still there for you, helping you grow and mature." Buice, chaplain at Gwinnett County Comprehensive Correctional Center in Lawrenceville and at I.W. Davis Probation Detention Center in Jefferson, launched the Barnabas Prison Ministry in 1992.
"I've had a dream for many years of being able to help men when they got out of prison," but that initially meant finding someone a place to stay or giving them a Bible and praying for them, he said. "It was small, but I've always had a big vision for helping men when they got out." That big vision is starting to become reality, thanks to the counsel of a board of directors and growing support from individuals and faith-based groups, including Mulberry Baptist Association, Auburn Park Baptist Church and Buice's own church, Hebron Baptist in Dacula. Hebron's members volunteer with the ministry and sponsor several benefits, including a golf tournament that raised several thousand dollars this year. The ministry, originally operated out of Buice's home, recently acquired its first office space. Men who come through on any given week attend Saturday morning Bible studies or visit the ministry's clothes closet to put together a wardrobe for work or to go on job interviews. Classes on such topics as handling money and anger management will soon be offered, and a Christian-based drug and alcohol program are planned. Buice also wants to make Christian counseling sessions available for those who need that kind of help. Buice's greatest dream, he said, is to open a transitional center that would house men for a minimum of 60 days after they've left prison. He points to a man he's been working with for the last 10 years who hopes to get out of prison in January as an example of why the center is needed. "He's been locked up for 15 years, and he's going to be like a 5-year-old" in terms of being prepared to live on his own, said Buice.
Evangelism is a key component of the Barnabas ministry. The focus is "to reach them for Christ and help them be successful when they come out," said Buice. But there is something different about the Barnabas ministry that makes it stand out among the many prison ministries inmates encounter, said Long. "You know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you've been touched by God through this ministry," he said. Most of Buice's work is done in Georgia, but in April, he chartered a bus and took volunteers from various churches to Louisiana's Angola Prison, a maximum-security facility. "Sixty-five to 75 percent of the men who live there will die there," said Buice. "We were able to witness to the men, and 89 of them accepted Christ." It's what makes him tick, he said. "I'm eat up with prison ministry. It's my life. My wife will tell you that, and my friends will tell you that." Roger Long confirms it, too. "There's not a week that goes by that he doesn't call me, and he'll leave a message that says, 'I want you to know that I love you, and I'm thinking about you.' "