By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
DEFIANCE, Ohio — Is Defiance the best place to have a ministry to former inmates?
Yes, says Pastor John, as he is known here. He’s heard the joke about his home town and ministry before. But the reality here is much more serious, he added, and has nothing to do with the French-American War which led to the name of the town.
“We’re not really all that defiant here. We are defying the odds every day, every time we try to help somebody get started again,” said John Cattell, pastor/director, The Disciple’s House, which helps many inmates who come through the 600-bed Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio in nearby Stryker.
The Disciple’s House is also located in an area of Ohio which might become a part of an expanded Tennessee/Greater Cincinnati & Dayton, Ohio, Partnership.
The requests for help come in the form of letters from inmates and families every day to Pastor John. He also meets monthly with prisoners at the Corrections Center.
Responding is a struggle, he admitted. He is helped only by a small network of fellow Christians. Church members often will minister in prisons, said Cattell. He coordinates about 200 volunteer chaplains at the Corrections Center as head chaplain. But few will help inmates after they are released, noted Cattell, who along with his wife Kay are missionaries for the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
People in churches “are afraid of our people (inmates) and definitely our people are afraid of them and how they’re going to react to them.” Former inmates are “wounded people,” he described.
There can be risks in working with them but “we take a lot of precautions” such as teaching volunteers to keep their personal information private, he noted. In all of his 11 years of ministry to former inmates, he has never even been afraid of a released inmate though he admitted some prisoners should never be released.
The rewards of this ministry are great, he added. He recently helped lead an 18-year-old man in prison to accept Christ. The young man’s parents, who saw him make the decision, left the meeting at the Corrections Center tearful. They are long-time Christians and will be helped by a support group for parents of The Disciple’s House. The young man, about to be released, will be helped by the about 10 former inmates who are currently a part of The Disciple’s House, explained Pastor John.
However, the struggles of the ministry are great too, he added. One of the biggest struggles is helping former inmates with housing, which is why Cattell and other Christians in Defiance hope to obtain a rooming house here.
Often inmates are held beyond their sentences if being released to parole because they can’t make arrangements for a place to live, noted Max Begley, friend of The Disciple’s House, who is pastor of Second Baptist Church, Defiance. Housing, especially for inmates who have been deemed violent or sexual offenders, is very difficult here in this town of about 14,000 and in other towns and cities, reported Begley, Cattell, and other community leaders here recently.
The rooming house could be renovated by volunteers and participants of The Disciple’s House. That process would enable them to learn construction skills and develop apartments for participants.
“This will be transformative all the way around,” said Steve Long, director of missions, Northwest Ohio Baptist Association, based near Toledo.
“God always supplies the need. … This is the church doing what the church does,” observed Pastor John.
At age 46, Cattell, was a successful travel agent who traveled the world, staying at the finest hotels, eating at the most expensive restaurants, and being treated royally to elicit his referrals. Then he broke the law with some people he thought were his friends and wound up in prison.
After he was released, he felt called by God to volunteer at the prison where he had been incarcerated — the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio — which was difficult, he recalled. Then he was named head chaplain and, a few years later, started The Disciple’s House.
“The worst thing that happened in my wife’s and my life turned into the best thing that happened,” said Pastor John, who has directed The Disciple’s House for eight years and seen it grow miraculously.
“Having this ministry is as much for me as it is for the people we minister to.”
The Disciple’s House steps in, said Pastor John, “when families … friends, even churches are done with them (former inmates).” Also businesses, even Christian businesses, say they can’t hire many former inmates, he added.
At The Disciple’s House, which is housed in a building loaned to the ministry, “they become Christians and are baptized,” he noted, as they participate in Bible and discipleship studies. They also are helped with housing, food, clothes, transportation, and jobs here, Cattell added, but only after a two-week probationary intake process. If they are accepted as a participant they can be involved in its one-year program which hundreds have done. The facility also has a fitness center which is popular because that is one activity many prisoners enjoy while in prison, the chaplain explained.
Rick Kolb, a participant of The Disciple’s House, said he has benefited from the program. He has been out of prison 10 months. Since then he has seen four fellow inmates go back to jail.
“We want to be that extended family to folks,” he said.
Marion Kauffman, the mother of a former inmate and a volunteer at The Disciple’s House, said her son is still being helped by the ministry and folks in churches here, despite his crime. He can’t have access to the Internet and can’t live in certain areas of town, yet he currently has worked at a factory for 18 months and has a good life, she said.
Another participant, Jay Solether, said he is still looking for a job after being released eight months ago. “I am glad to be a part of this team. … I consider them my family.”
For more information on The Disciple’s House, contact Steve Long, DOM, Northwest Ohio Association, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-345-9144 or John Cattell at email@example.com.