HOUSTON (BP)-—Each week, the “bar hoppers” visit their brothers and sisters across Texas, who live in 6-foot by 9-foot cells separated by quarter-inch metal walls.
The Less Than the Least Ministry, a para-church outreach of Sagemont Baptist Church in Houston, has ministered to those behind bars since 1999, when God opened the doors at Sagemont to start a prison ministry. Today, they have 88 state-approved volunteers, otherwise known as bar hoppers, who visit prisoners across Texas.
“We exist to build a continually growing team of called volunteers to present the Gospel to those who are incarcerated,” said Zeke Young, founder of the Less than the Least Ministry. “Not all of the volunteers work consistently because of their busy lifestyles. Some of them only go every now and then, but they stay faithful to serve.” Either way, the ministry seeks to recruit and train volunteers to go into the prisons and minister to those behind bars.
Volunteers are vital to the existence of this ministry and others throughout Texas. The Texas legislature recently reduced funding for prison chaplains, making it impossible to fulfill all the needs of each unit. But Less Than the Least has succeeded in reaching out through their volunteers to share the Gospel.
“Since 1999, we have led 250-300 inmates to the Lord,” Young said.
The ministry’s job is not easy, though. They deal with men and women who are murderers, thieves and rapists.
“These guys appreciate us coming in there,” Young said. “I’ve seen some of the biggest, baddest guys on their knees giving their lives to the Lord Jesus.”
Young recalls the life of one Christian inmate who would send him to witness to other inmates and would pray with him before he entered the cellblock.
“He would say, ‘Brother Zeke, go and visit that man down in cell number 8. He needs Jesus.’ But things got to be too much for him and he committed suicide.”
After the convict’s death, Young and Sagemont Church planned a burial for the man and a service for his family. During that time of mourning, the former inmate’s two daughters were saved. In turn, victory did come through their father’s relationship with the Less Than the Least Ministry, Young noted.
There is joy inside the prison walls of the units visited by the Less Than the Least Ministry. Volunteers come each week to lead the inmates in drama, singing and other activities. Each year, the ministry hosts a contest for the inmates and chooses the top 15 essays and paintings from the entries. Each winner receives $50 donated by Sagemont Church.
The state also has started a pre-release program, called Interchange Freedom Initiative, led by Less Than the Least volunteers. Tony Minchew, a Sagemont member and volunteer for Less Than the Least, said mentoring inmates is a critical part of the ministry. Minchew discusses with inmates current events and issues to help them develop a Christian worldview.
An important aspect of the Less Than the Least Ministry has been its radio ministry, which began more than two years ago. KIVY reaches 22 prisons in and around the Huntsville area and within a 60-mile radius. This one-hour program features Zeke and his faithful companion, Alma Goeman, otherwise known as “Grandma” to the inmates.
“At the end of the program, I say a prayer of salvation so God can move into their cells and work in their hearts,” Goeman said. “They are lonesome, bitter, homesick, and they are searching for someone to lead in the right direction.”
In addition to the radio program, Less Than the Least produces a newsletter, Frontlines Chronicle, where convicts are encouraged to write articles and columns. This newsletter gives inmates the chance to witness to other inmates and utilize their talents. The Less Than the Least Ministry is equipping inmates with biblical principles for everyday living for those who will be released and for those who are lifetime prisoners. Teams of convicts are teaching precept Bible studies, witnessing and praying for their fellow inmates while in prison, Minchew said.
“God has blessed us with wonderful volunteers, but we are in the worst state that we have ever been when it comes to volunteers,” Minchew said. “This ministry is growing rapidly and we are looking for people to help on the outside and the inside of the prisons that have media skills, secretarial skills, who are prayer warriors, and more.”
Not only is the ministry searching for people with specific skills, but it is also looking for volunteers to minister to the families of those incarcerated.
“We are to show a loving God to a watching prisoner, their victims and their families,” Minchew said. There is much help needed also among women inmates throughout Texas prisons.
Goeman started the women’s section of this ministry with a band of women volunteers known as the Angels in Disguise. This group visits the women’s prisons throughout Texas to teach sewing classes, minister to the inmates and stick around to counsel the family members of those incarcerated. Goeman’s biggest blessing is playing the role of “grandmother” to several thousand inmates each month, she said.
“Something about a grandma makes them think back to their grandmothers and it’s something special,” she said. “I didn’t know what God wanted me to do in this ministry, but it really touches my heart to be able to minister to them, hug them, quote them a Scripture, to tell them I love them — just to let them know I really care.”
“We all want to know what we are called to do, but when the phone rings we don’t answer it,” Minchew said. “Isaiah said, ‘Here am I, send me.’ God is attempting to send us. We need to go.”