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Water purifier project provides way for prisoners to give back

VIENNA, Ill. (BP)–Prisoners usually are not known for what they give back to society, but a group of men at the Shawnee Correctional Center in Vienna, Ill., have found a way to do just that and, in the process, helping a new career missionary family to the Niger Republic.
Fourteen men in the Illinois medium security prison raised $175 in a year’s time to purchase a water purifier through Woman’s Missionary Union’s Pure Water Pure Love project. They learned about the project, which provides water purifiers for international missionaries, in a missions education class sponsored by the prison’s chaplaincy program, headed by Southern Baptist chaplain Gerald Miller.
Miller started the missions education class in August 1996 with the help of Rob Carr, then director of Brotherhood Services for the Illinois Baptist State Association. Carr met with the group monthly until June 1998, when he became adult missions education strategist with the North American Mission Board. The group is now being led by Charles Boling, director of missions for Williamson Baptist Association, and William Savage, pastor of First Baptist Church, Johnson City, Ill.
In the spring of 1997, the prisoners saw an advertisement about Pure Water Pure Love in Missions Today, a magazine for men published by the former Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission, which also sponsored the project at the time. The magazine ceased publication and the project was transferred to WMU in 1997 when the commission was merged with the Home Mission Board and Radio and Television Commission to form the convention’s new North American Mission Board.
“The men decided they could raise the money to buy one of the purifiers,” Carr recounted. “I was amazed and grateful for their willingness to take on the project.”
Chaplain Miller echoed the sentiment. “The men get little money each month,” he explained. “So even a gift of a $1 per month is a significant contribution.”
In May 1998, WMU received the $175 from the prisoners needed to purchase a water purifier for a missionary couple serving overseas. Due to the backlog of purifiers waiting on a missionary’s request, it took until August 1998 for the men’s purifier to be assigned.
The family that received the prisoner’s purifier is Phillip and Kimberly Cain and their daughter, Caroline, 4. The family arrives in Niger Republic Oct. 27 to begin their assignment as church planters. The family is returning to Niger Republic, having served there from 1995-97 as International Service Corps volunteers.
“We are so grateful that we are able to take back a water purifier with us,” said Kimberly Cain, a native of Murfreesboro, Tenn. “It will mean a lot to us because water purifiers are very important to our health; they are a real necessity where we will live.
“We were also excited when we found out that the prisoners gave the money to buy the purifier,” she continued. “When the chaplain told us that they don’t get very much money, but wanted to support missions, we realized that it was a real sacrifice of love. We were touched by that.
“But, what is really neat,” she added, “is that part of our ministry in Niger Republic is working with prisoners.” Cain explained her husband and their fellow missionary Don Bolls started the prison ministry while the Cains were living there. “We have seen some really neat things happen in the prison ministry, including several baptisms.”
Miller said the prisoners were excited to learn that their water purifier had finally been assigned to a missionary couple. Phillip Cain, a native of Boise, Idaho, called the chaplain shortly after receiving notification that their purifier was available.
“They like the idea that they will be able to write and hear from the missionaries,” Miller said. “It means a lot to these men to know that they can help this family in such a practical way. And I’m pleased that even in their confinement they are having a hands-on missions experience.”
For more information about Pure Water Pure Love, write Woman’s Missionary Union, P.O. Box 830010-0010, Birmingham, AL 35283-0010, or call (205) 991-4073.
*Name changed for security concerns.

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  • Tanya Dawson*