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Former inmates & their families find a home at New Beginnings

BATESVILLE, Ark. (BP)–When God provides a unique opportunity, he often finds a unique individual to lead it.

Such is the case in a one-of-a-kind ministry in Independence County, Ark., that grew out of a jail ministry.

Ron Faught, a former law enforcement officer, felt a burden for the spiritual needs of inmates and their families. He helped start a jail ministry, eventually became the chaplain for Independence County jails and now is pastor of a new church that specifically targets former inmates and their families.

The church, a mission of First Baptist Church, Batesville, was launched May 2, 1999. Former inmates picked the name, “New Beginnings Community Church,” symbolic of the new life they found in Christ while in jail and reflecting their desire to begin a new life after their release. It is the only church of its kind in Arkansas and possibly the only one in the nation sponsored by a local Baptist church.

A decade or so ago, Faught resigned as a law enforcement officer and became a private investigator. But in February 1996, he and Larry Weaver, who is now pastor of Marcella Baptist Church, Pleasant Grove, Ark., began a jail ministry on a part-time basis. The ministry was sponsored by Eastside Baptist Church, Cave City. Weaver, a retired Marine Corps officer, has a son who came to know the Lord while in jail. He felt a burden to offer other inmates the opportunity to come to Christ.

Weaver and Faught visited 10 county jails every week, sharing their faith and ministering in various ways to the inmates. About 350 inmates accepted Christ that first year. More than 1,000 have followed Christ in the years since.

Then, Weaver felt the call to the pastorate.

“I couldn’t understand why he would leave the ministry to pastor a church,” Faught quipped.

Faught continued the work and developed a keen interest in “getting the gospel” to the families of the inmates.

“If we can get mama and the kids saved, when he gets out they can grow together spiritually,” Faught said, noting that often when inmates are released, even if they’ve been saved, they return to the same environment they left and slip back into their old lifestyles.

Faught began wishing and praying that the ministry could become full-time. He mentioned it to Danny Veteto, director of missions for the Independence Baptist Association. Veteto felt the churches of the association would support it and encouraged Faught to begin visiting churches, telling about the jail ministry.

About a year and a half ago, Faught began to do just that, visiting churches, “selling” the jail ministry and encouraging churches to support the ministry with prayer support, volunteers and financial support. He tried to relate specific stories of jail ministry.

“For example, I walked in one jail and said, ‘Hello fellows,’ and a guy in the back called out, ‘I want to be saved.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Are you mocking me or do you really want to be saved?'” Faught related the experience. “He said, ‘I really want to be saved. I’m tired of the devil controlling me.'”

Faught presented the gospel to the man in front of his fellow inmates and the man prayed to receive Christ.

He told of meeting one inmate who just wanted to argue about what the Bible says. Faught refused to argue with him. The next week he simply asked the man if he needed anything. The third week the man was saved.

“After he was saved, he said, ‘Would you go tell my wife what you just told me?'”

Faught did so and the wife, a 17-year-old son and a 12-year-old son all accepted Christ.

“That’s all these churches need to hear,” Faught said. “The whole association is behind it [the jail ministry].”

As Faught began to see support from the association and individual churches, “I changed the way I had been praying,” he said. Instead of asking God to make it possible for him to go full-time, “I told God I was going full-time if $400 a month came in.”

Soon thereafter, he phased out his private investigation business and went full time as county chaplain.

Veteto began encouraging him to consider pastoring a church. Then one day Marion Reynolds, director of chaplaincy ministries for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, asked him if he had ever considered being a pastor.

“You, too?” Faught responded. But Reynolds planted a new concept in his mind. Why not start a church for former inmates and their families?

“I didn’t think that was possible,” Faught said.

Reynolds recalled that the conversation brought tears to Faught’s eyes.

Faught mentioned what Reynolds had said to Veteto, who talked with Don Nall, pastor of First Baptist Church, Batesville. Within about a month, the new mission church was begun, with Faught as pastor.

“God doesn’t necessarily call you to do one thing for the rest of your life,” Faught explained. “I surrendered to ministry, not to any one type of ministry. But I don’t ask God to use me anymore because he’ll use you up. I just ask to be fit to be used.”

The congregation meets in a rented concrete block building that has been a dress shop and most recently a dance studio. It is modest and small, but it’s in a good location and it is adequate for the present need.

Eastside Baptist Church, Cave City, gave them a piano, a van and $100 a month for gasoline for the van. Marcella Baptist Church, Pleasant Grove, gave them a pulpit. First Baptist Church provides for needs as they arise.

“I don’t have to worry about finances,” Faught said.

The uniqueness of the church is that former inmates and their families are totally accepted and completely at ease.

Too often, former inmates who are Christians feel uncomfortable in mainstream churches. Sometimes church members are suspicious of the former offenders and don’t trust them. Even in the most accepting churches, former inmates imagine that everyone is talking behind their backs.

At New Beginnings Community Church, that is not a problem. Sixty percent of the congregation are former inmates and their families. The other 40 percent are from the community and leadership from First Baptist Church. The average attendance since its launch is 32, with a high of 41.

Helen Parman, a member of First Baptist who assists Faught at New Beginnings, called it a spiritual halfway house or a way station. She believes many will someday become members of mainstream churches.

Sunday school and worship services are comfortable and laid back, beginning with donuts, coffee and orange juice. Dress is casual. One 7-year-old girl asks to sing a solo in church every Sunday she is there. And she does.

“Think of what that does to her self-esteem,” Reynolds said.

Faught and church members minister to anyone they learn about who is in need. Recently a homeless couple from Iowa wandered into town with no money, no place to stay and no food to eat. With financial support from the deacons at First Baptist, Faught got them in a motel and took them some food. Then he presented the gospel to them.

The wife was saved immediately; her husband took another hour. “It just took longer for him,” Faught said.

Before he left the room, they asked Faught if he would marry them. They had been living together for nine years, but as new believers they felt they should be married.

“It hadn’t dawned on me that they might not be married,” Faught said.

The next Sunday morning, the couple attended New Beginnings and at the conclusion of the worship service, Faught performed a five-minute wedding.

“That night, we baptized them,” Faught said. “I’ve never heard of any other couple being baptized on their wedding night.”

The newlyweds both got jobs at the motel, cleaning rooms. They continued attending New Beginnings.

One former inmate, Molly, lives 20 miles from the church, part of that over gravel roads. Yet she is there almost every Sunday.

Baptisms are done at First Baptist, or Eastside if there is a scheduling conflict. When members at those churches observe the baptisms, they feel a part of the work at New Beginnings.

In addition to serving as pastor of the church, Faught continues his work as chaplain. He trains members from churches throughout the association how to do effective jail ministry.

He encourages volunteers to listen to the inmates before trying to witness to them. “You’ll learn what they need and how to reach them,” he said.

He also urges them not to preach Baptist doctrine, but just introduce them to Jesus. “Look for ways to bring Jesus into the conversation,” he said.

“Then I put the new recruits with one of the old horses” and they learn to minister by observing their mentor.

Faught divides his time between his two loves, jail ministry and leading his new flock. Both are uniquely suited for this unique man whom God equipped with a heart for inmates and their families.

    About the Author

  • Charlie Warren