Chaplain Tommy Armstrong
Tommy Armstrong has served as chaplain at Dillwyn Correctional Center for more than 15 years! He describes himself as a “simple mountain preacher” and says that he loves sharing the love of Christ and listening to people share their stories and issues.
More than 45 years ago, Chaplain Tommy Armstrong’s friends might have guessed that he’d be in prison – but probably as an offender. “But God switched that around. Now, I have been a chaplain for more than 15 years at Dillwyn Correctional Center.”
After a 35 year career with Ukrops, Chaplain Armstrong heard a clear call from God “I’d been preaching, also, so the Lord said to me, ‘one or the other.’” He chose. At the time, the only opening was a several hour drive one way but Chaplain Armstrong said he’d take it. As God would have it, though, just prior to starting at the distant prison, an opening came up at Dillwyn where he has served faithfully ever since.
Pastor of Cedar Baptist Church in Dillwyn for almost 19 years, Chaplain Armstrong says he does this work because “the harvest is plenty.” He goes on to explain, “I do a lot of work with the believers – but there is a lot more out there than we can do. I talk about baseball, football, everything and anything- but [the guys] always seem to come around. I do a lot of walking and I am able to talk to everybody, every religion. My momma always said to be prayed up. Before I walk, I pray. I’ll begin walking around the yard by myself – and end with 12 – 15 guys walking with me.”
“I get to do some one-on-one on the yard. I play ball with them. I lift weights with them because when I do one-on-one in an environment where someone else is listening, you are feeding more than one. They see my witness. They come talk to me and say, ‘Tell me about what you got.’ And I tell them about Jesus. I get to plant seeds. Some seeds will come up – some will fall on rock. But at least I can say something that might stay with them. I come back because of the harvest. There is a harvest there.”
Chaplain Armstrong is serious about prayer. He prays for protection and for understanding. In a facility where 70% of the men are sex offenders, he had to be clear that he could minister to that kind of person. This is an environment where grace and mercy are not just words spoken. The men here have to do the real work of what it means to be forgiven – and be held accountable. So did Chaplain Armstrong.
When Chaplain Armstrong began as chaplain he shares “If I am not sold to it, I am not going to do it. If I am not giving 400%, I’m not givin’ nothin’!” For this reason, “I wrestled with God for four days struggling with whether or not I could do this [work with sex offenders]. After four days, clearly from God, I heard, ‘These are my children.’ So I return to the prison and a BIG inmate comes running towards me. Now, you don’t run in prison. So this big guy is running to me, security right behind him. He grabbed me and hugged me and whispered in my ear, ‘God wants you here.’ Nobody knew what he said but me. Security asked, ‘Are you okay, Chaplain?’ I said, Yes, I am.”
“I’m a chaplain. I’m a preacher. I want to save souls. That is what I do. I get to talk to men about Jesus. I get to show who I love – which is Jesus. And, God blesses me because I come in here.”
Married with three adult children, Chaplain Armstrong shares he has three essential words, “Love, the Cross and Forgiven. That is what I do and who I am.”