Leading with Courage and Compassion

Date Posted: 9/11/2014

Offering incarcerated youth the opportunity to change their lives is one of the passions exuded by Chuck Talbot, Restorative Justice Ministry Representative for the South District. He shares his passion and leadership story with us here. 
Imagine hosting a life-changing weekend retreat for 30-36 incarcerated youth who are called “Stars” for those three days. Day One emphasizes God’s love through Jesus based on readings and dramatic reenactments. During the afternoon on the second day, a surprise birthday party is given for all of the Stars, complete with their names on a cake, a card signed by the volunteers,
a gift and an emotional time as they are encircled as
leaders sing “You are Loved.”

Leaders Act on their Passions
“It’s powerful to see the youth write down the names of people they need to forgive and nail the lists to a wooden cross,” says Chuck Talbot, ChristWay Community Church member who also serves as the South District Restorative Justice Ministry representative and on the board of Epiphany Ministries (a 501-c3 organization that ministers to youthful offenders in state and county institutions). Epiphany is just one of many prison-oriented ministries Chuck and his wife Anne personally support but one that shows the immediate life impact and the influence of unconditional love. “You can see how music breaks down walls between various gang members in the group and when they see some of their peers acting out the Prodigal Son skit, for example, they are more prone to accept the message of forgiveness and salvation,” he adds.
Leaders Build Relationships
Facilitating collaboration is a critical leadership skill. Adds Chuck, “We’ve made four trips to the Valley to meet with the staff at Evins Unit, the local community, and clergy leaders. Our goal is to expand the ministry across the state. The Evins Unit will connect us to 10 active units in the state.” Effective leadership also involves consistent follow-through and commitment.  After the 3-day Epiphany weekend, the Talbots return to the Unit on a regular basis to conduct monthly prayer and share ‘reunion’ group meetings. The Epiphany weekend demands different relationship-building skills. Explains Chuck, “A co-ed team of volunteers works together to demonstrate a family setting, by offering home cooked meals served family style so inmates learn to share. And, on Day Three, we give them a bag of handwritten letters expressing God’s love for them and host a celebration service to help the youth have a sense of purpose and knowledge that there is a Godly master plan at work in their lives.”
Leaders Recruit and Train Others
The Talbots are continually talking about the ministry, seeking partners, donations, and volunteers. “I’ve recruited several bilingual youth leaders from our church to serve on the Epiphany team and they have been a blessing to all,” he says. Most recently, Chuck presented the Lay Director and Assistant Lay Director portions of the training and Anne covered the Spiritual Director activities. “I spoke at an Emmaus Gathering in Corpus Christi and Harlingen to recruit more volunteers for our Evins Unit launch,” he adds, “because without the prerequisites and full teams of trained volunteers we will not go into a unit. Epiphany cannot afford a false start.”
It is a rewarding feeling when others join him in making a
difference in the prison system. “The volunteers are very
receptive and excited to share Jesus with those behind
the walls,” he says.
Leaders are Always Learning and Educating
“I’ve been doing prison ministry since 1993 and I am still learning,” Chuck admits. “I’ve encountered a lot of resistance to taking the love of Christ inside the walls of prisons but I have used that resistance to learn perseverance, to change the focus of our ministry at times, and to learn patience. I am also learning to let go, once someone takes charge of a program, we need to let it be their process from that point on.”
To boost awareness of the ongoing need for Christian influence in the prison system, the Talbots are instrumental in planning an RJM Sunday in late October at ChristWay Community Church. The day will focus on providing hope and empathy to those impacted by crime and will feature keynote speakers from the Texas Conference, as well as, a speaker from a TDCJ Unit. “It will be a great day for anyone interested in this type of ministry. It’s also an excellent opportunity to invite someone to church who has a loved one in the prison system so they can learn about resources and receive spiritual guidance and prayer.”