The image in Matt. 25:36 of ministering to Jesus when visiting the sick or in prison is fitting for 86-year-old Bill Van Staalduinin from Terra Ceia Christian Reformed Church in North Carolina. He's been volunteering with Yokefellow Prison Ministry for more than 20 years, and he sees his gifts of visiting and listening as service to Jesus. “I do what I do because of what Christ did for me,” he told The Banner in a March 11 phone interview.
Van Staalduinin picked up the prison ministry volunteering shortly after retiring from farming and has encouraged others at Terra Ceia to participate. In a letter he wrote on behalf of Yokefellow Prison Ministry, he explained that the inmates in the facility he ministers in, Hyde County Correctional Institution, want to be “recognized as a community of believers,” and have set up services to pray, sing, and study the Bible. “We pray that the Lord of the harvest will send more volunteers,” Van Staalduinin wrote.
Garrett Saul, the pastor at Terra Ceia, sat in on one of the Yokefellow meetings. “It was wonderful,” Garrett said. “Around 50 inmates came to study Scripture for about an hour and a half followed by a short time of singing. There was also a time of sharing about what the inmates hope to do with their lives after they get out of prison.”
Connections sometimes do continue after prison. In fact, for over two months, Van Staalduinin said, one returning citizen had been attending church services with him and his wife. Meeting Van Staalduinin at his home, they’d attend the service at Terra Ceia and then have dinner together. Van Staalduinin said in March that he hoped to find work for the 40-year-old man, who used to be a fisherman on the river. “This is the third time he’s starting over again,” Van Staalduinin said.
The Yokefellows volunteer work started for Van Staalduinin at the encouragement of a neighbor. He said he also had a longtime interest in prison ministry after reading the Sugar Creek Gang books his parents gave him one Christmas when he was a boy. “Little (Jim) always inspired me about going to preach at the jail.”
The biggest part of the work is listening to the inmates, Van Staalduinin said. “They don’t get too much say in prison, so they can talk here. We’re here to comfort and support them.” Van Staalduinin also makes sure inmates get cards and notes, which are always appreciated. Last April, Van Staalduinin received a thank-you note from an inmate for the Easter card he sent. “It was my only one, and it meant the world to me.”