News Articles

His passion: share the gospel in prisons, jails, juvenile centers

CUMBERLAND, Md. (BP)–Bill Hunt is the kind of man prisoners would notice. His large frame and snowy white hair seem to command respect. But Hunt is not just a tough guy. As he tells the story of a prisoner he led to Christ, his voice grows softer and his eyes well up with tears.
“He was a really hard man,” says Hunt of the inmate, who had murdered his nephew with a shotgun at close range. For the first few weeks Hunt visited the man’s prison, the man wouldn’t come out of his cell, but listened silently, staring into space, as Hunt shared the gospel with other inmates. Hunt offered the man a Bible, but he refused it. Then, several weeks later, the inmate asked Hunt for one. After several more weeks, he turned to Hunt with a serious expression and said, “You better teach me the Book of Romans.” So several more weeks passed as Hunt did so. Finally, the man committed his life to Christ.
He has since been released, and contacted Hunt to confess he’d gone back to drinking but was still trying to grow in his relationship with Christ. “There’s so many of them whose lives are changed, but I know they go back to the jungle,” Hunt says, rubbing tears from his eyes. “We just present the gospel. That’s all we can do.”
Presenting the gospel to prisoners is something Hunt has been doing since shortly after he himself came to Christ in 1976. It all began with a vision he had of a blue-jeaned man sitting behind bars. Not long after that experience, a friend invited him to a Bible study in Cumberland, Md., whose members visited inmates.
The bakery where he worked shut down in 1982, and in 1983 an inmate at the Allegheny County Detention Center asked him to start a Sunday worship service there. So Hunt decided to pursue his ministry full time, naming it Go Tell John (referring to the message Christ sent the jailed John the Baptist in Matthew 11:2-5). More opportunities to serve came quickly.
Now Hunt regularly visits two federal prisons, one state prison, three county jails, three juvenile centers and several camps run by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice.
Kenneth Heath, director of missions for Maryland’s Western Baptist Association, says, “You’ve got to have someone with a passion for the ministry to succeed. Bill has got a passion from God’s own heart. He gives his all to the ministry. I don’t think it would exist without him.” Even so, the association-financed ministry is running about $7,000 short of the funds it needs for such expenses as purchasing paperback Bibles to distribute.
Hunt, a member of Christ Memorial Baptist Church in Westernport, can be found at various times each week preaching sermons, leading Bible studies, counseling inmates and their families, distributing Bibles and leading seminars on such topics as preparing for life after release. His wife, Dot, often travels with him, handing out crosses to youngsters in the camps.
In many ways, Heath says, ministering to inmates is not any different from ministering to others who’ve found themselves at vulnerable places in their lives, such as hospital patients and nursing home residents. “They just need that reassurance that somebody loves them. I reassure them, ‘God has not left you. He may have even put you in here.’ And they understand that. They tell me they may not have been willing to listen otherwise.”
Jailhouse conversions can be every bit as real as those that occur in the outside world, Hunt says. “Who cares where you get converted? It’s an opportunity where people can sit back a little and think about where they are and where they’re going.”
True transformation, Hunt tells inmates, comes when they are able to decide to give their anger up to God and give him control of their lives. “Whenever you can adjust your life so that hate doesn’t run you down, that’s when you know you’re where you should be,” he says.
Sometimes Hunt, who leads hundreds to Christ each year, encounters people who believe God could never forgive them for their crimes. “They say, ‘You don’t know what I’ve done,’ but I say, ‘I do, and God does, but he still loves you.'”

    About the Author

  • Whitney Von Lake Hopler