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Help Wanted: Ministry To Former Prisoners Needs Night Staff, Housing Available

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Rev. Wayne Stafford of Pilgrims Path House of Refuge poses with the van that provides transportation for former prisoners. The ministry needs volunteers to cook, drive, and provide other services.

"It would have to be the right man, or if the Lord brings them to us, maybe an older married couple," Rev. Wayne Stafford said of the need for night staff at his church's ministry to former prisoners.

Stafford has pastored the Pilgrims Pathway Baptist Church in Green Hill for the past 14 years. About four years ago, the Lord laid another ministry on his heart, former prisoners.

"A big prisoner walked up to me after devotions one night and said, 'I'm scared.' I looked him up and down. He was a big man. I asked him, 'You're scared?' He said yes. With no family and the only friends he had wanting him back into the kind of trouble that got him locked up in the first place, he had nowhere to go. They wanted to put him on a bus to Asheville to a homeless shelter. On the ride home that night, the Lord began to deal with me. He said, 'You want to preach to them and get them saved while they're in prison, but what are they gonna do when they get out?'" Stafford said.

He immediately began to talk with his wife, Kara, and his congregation in Green Hill. The result saw light last April 1 when the ministry opened for business.

Located on Main Street in Spindale, the home for former prisoners can house up to 12 and currently has seven men. Stafford and his allies have found jobs for about a dozen in those ten months and helped find housing.

"These men have nothing. Lots of times in the process of getting arrested and incarcerated, they even lose Social Security Cards and ID cards," he said.

Beyond needing night staff, a job he said that may even come with a small salary, he needs drivers.

"We need to be able to take these guys to job interviews. We did two yesterday and I think both of these guys are gonna get these jobs. They have absolutely no interest in going back to prison. Not every former prisoner wants to come to a place like this. We have devotions every day and church three times a week. They sweep, mop and vacuum this place every day. They love church, and love what goes on here," Stafford said.

Are there 12-step meetings for addicts?

Stafford smiled and held up one finger.

"We only have one step, the trip to Calvary is the only step they need," the preacher said of personal conversion and Bible study.

Pilgrims Pathway House Of Refuge is a nonprofit organization that provides housing, clothing, and meals. It is not a homeless shelter.

"Former prisoners is our lane. I'm not going to a transmission shop and ask for tires. They don't do that at a transmission shop. Former prisoners is all we do; and if somebody will come and listen to these guys, they will be amazed at what goes on here," Stafford said.

In addition to night staff and drivers, the preacher needs cooks.

People looking to volunteer can call Pastor Stafford at 828-202-5543 or on his cell at 828-429-7616.

"Right now we've got a 70-year-old veteran, Big Jack, who runs the day program as a volunteer. He does everything, but we just need more volunteers. This ministry really matters. It does a lot of good," Stafford said.

Part of the problem is that the U.S. is one of the few developed countries in the world that provides no transitional housing for prisoners. A bus ticket, a little cash, and a "good luck," are often all that is available after men have spent sometimes decades in prison.

Prisoners often walk out with no family and the only friends they have are the folks who got them arrested in the first place.

Stafford came to the ministry through prayer and listening for the guidance of the God he believes answers prayers.

"These men need help, often medical and dental (they use Blue Ridge Health in Spindale,) jobs, housing, meals. They often come out of prison with nothing," Stafford said.

The RHI Foundation has helped with renovations to the ministry's 514 East Main Street, Spindale location, but primarily the 10-month-old effort is in infancy and needs cash, volunteers and everything else needed by all the nonprofit work going on in the county.

Part of the income comes from the Pilgrims Pathway Thrift Store which is also run by volunteers and also is on Main Street, Spindale.

But the need is a whole lot bigger. Stafford needs folks writing checks and mailing them to P.O. Box 216, Spindale, 28160. The ministry at present costs about $3500 a month to operate.

Stafford's congregation of 50 in Green Hill is not up to paying all those bills; and support from other churches is not yet up to the task. The need is great, but Stafford could not be more enthusiastic about the work being done.

"We know a relationship with God changes lives. These guys are amazing," he said.

The ministry, in part, gets its name from Psalm 9:9, "The Lord with be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble."

Literature for the ministry also quotes the book of Jude, Together changing lives through Jesus Christ, "and of some have compassion, making a difference."

Stafford acknowledged that there are many important ministries in the county that are always looking for help.

Wonder how folks would feel if they were the ones getting out of prison with nothing?

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