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Pastor's Widow turns Brokenness into Jail Ministry

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Pastor's Widow turns Brokenness into Jail Ministry

By Tobin Perry

GREENVILLE, S.C.—Five years ago Phyllis McMinn’s husband was killed in a one-car accident. The longtime pastor’s wife could have quit right then. She could have given up on ministry.

Instead God used her brokenness to start something new.

“Once I got out of the fog of grief, my heart’s cry to the Lord was for Him to retool me for a new ministry,” said McMinn, the now single mother of four. “Because I loved ministry, and ministry—as I had known it—was gone.”

McMinn had led Bible studies in a maximum-security prison—and loved it. When a position opened up as a jail chaplain, God led McMinn to look into it. But she quickly discovered she didn’t have some of the prerequisites—like a master’s degree.

God was persistent. He reminded her of the desire to serve as a jail chaplain. She went back to school to get the kind of training she needed for her new ministry.
Today, as a North American Mission Board-endorsed chaplain at Greenville County Detention Center in Greenville, S.C., McMinn serves people who’ve come face-to-face with brokenness. Most come to the jail awaiting their trial—and are just beginning to face what it’s like to have their freedom taken from them.

“This is a very dark spiritual place,” McMinn said “And the light of Christ needs to shine. The chaplain has a privilege of being the representative of the Lord’s grace and mercy in this place.”

To help meet the spiritual needs of the 1,300 to 1,500 incarcerated in the jail, McMinn prays for them, leads Bible studies among them and counsels them. She also serves more than 100 volunteers who minister in the jail.

McMinn says people who are in jail awaiting trial often struggle through anger, depression, frustration, devastation—and guilt.

“It’s really a community of people in this place, who are brokenhearted, desperately needing to know if anyone cares, if anyone loves them, if anyone can help them out of the pit of life that they’re in,” McMinn said.

Desperate for restoration, McMinn said, many are ready to listen to God’s Word.

“A lot of them struggle with the issue of forgiveness,” McMinn said. “Can God forgive me for what I’ve done in my life? I have the privilege, as a chaplain, of opening the Word of God and showing them that God extends grace, mercy and total forgiveness to all men, who call upon the name of the Lord.”

One of McMinn’s main responsibilities is to get prisoners copies of God’s Word. It’s a role she treasures because she knows the impact the Bible can have on all those who read it. She also loves to teach it to the prisoners—and see them apply it to their lives as God transforms them.

“I love that I get to share the Word of God with broken people,” McMinn said. “I get to walk into the cell or unit with someone who is devastated and share with them the truth of God’s Word.”

It’s a role for which God has prepared her well, even using as a tutor the dark days following her husband’s death.

“My training ground for chaplaincy was brokenness,” said McMinn. “As a widow I suffered through anger, fear, loneliness, devastation. What I found is that humanity’s brokenness all has a common core. Those incarcerated, their brokenness, is the same as mine in that the only cure, the only hope, the only restoration is found in Jesus Christ and in His grace.”

Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.