Down through the years, various Christians have been involved in sharing the good news of Jesus to those in prison. Mennonite church papers listed several stories in the 1970’s of pastors and several groups that were attempting to do local prison ministry. A Lancaster Offenders Ministries Council was formed in 1975 to have regular Bible studies at Lancaster County Prison. Sometime in the 1980’s, a more organized chaplain program was set up by the Lancaster County Council of Churches. Soon there were several Mennonite church leaders involved in this fledgling outreach to those who were incarcerated.
Another connection to SFPM History was written in southern Alabama. Martin and Anna Weber moved from a farm in Pennsylvania to Atmore, Alabama in 1963. Martin was soon involved as a lay preacher at the Atmore Prison Farm and a few years later was hired by Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) as a chaplain. His work grew and by the early 1980’s various volunteer prison chaplains became involved with We Care Program. A number of these young persons were from eastern PA and the experience of doing prison ministry in Alabama made a lasting impression on them.
Some of them came home to Lancaster area and began helping in various ways within the Lancaster County Prison (LCP) and Barnes Hall (now called Youth Intervention Center). During this time, a non-profit board was formed and named Support for Prison Ministries. The board of directors received an IRS non-profit 501 (c) (3) charity status in l988. For several years, they conducted local benefit auctions for the Alabama ministry. Then requests came to help a newly formed Hope Way program, whose purpose was to disciple ex-offenders.
In 1993, the Lancaster County Council of Churches transferred their LCP/Barnes Hall ministries to SFPM. The March 1993 Council of Churches newsletter quoted, “After much discussion and prayerful considerations, the administrative and financial responsibility of the prison chaplaincy will be taken over by a newly formed non-profit, Support for Prison Ministries.” Early SFPM chaplains were David Myer, followed by Al Huber, Marvin Reed, and Faye Stauffer. The SFPM chaplains and programs grew during the 1990’s. Committed volunteers, as well as several full-time staff, became involved. An active board raised funds, did publicity to churches, and were involved with supporting the chaplains in many ways.
In 1999, Nelson Martin was invited to become the first paid director. Nelson had a background in business and church leadership. Nelson’s visionary work developed a mailing list, a website, more organized policies and guidelines for staff, and a quarterly Freedom Focus newsletter. SFPM told their story in many churches and to various business and non-profit groups. A monthly prayer letter was followed by many people. Nelson retired as director at the end of 2014. He continues with SFPM a day or two a week, doing monthly accounting, public relations, and working with the annual benefit auction.
Del Burkholder became the new SFPM director on January 1, 2015. Del had already been involved in Streams of Life prison ministries that shared in PA state prisons. Del’s work brought more involvement and awareness of prison ministries outside of Lancaster County. During the year of 2017, Streams of Life merged its ministries into SFPM to give a stronger base for outreach. In the fall of 2018, SFPM began to support chaplaincy services in the Schuylkill County, PA prison, coordinated by Jubilee Ministries.
God is so faithful. We count on the Biblical promise as we do our work that “some sow, some water, and some gather the harvest.”
Updated November 2018
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