Prisoners in Former Coal Mining “Boom Town” Experience the Riches of God’s Grace

What Can I Give Him, Poor As I Am?

Pocahontas, a former coal mining “boom town” in Tazewell County (far Southwest Virginia) has seen its share of industrial decline, natural disasters, economic hardship, etc.  From the early 1880s through the early 1920s, this town prospered from the coal mining industry, the railroads, tourists, etc.  Thousands of European immigrants moved here from the northeast to work in the mines and to share in the wealth.  But times changed.  Big industry and a decline in the demand for coal put many out of work, sent folks to the unemployment lines and eventually shrunk the town’s population and prosperity.

However, in 2007 the Virginia Department of Corrections built and opened a medium security state prison near the town called Pocahontas State Correctional Center.  (The facility houses just over 1,000 male inmates.)  And the opening of this prison brought back jobs to people in the area for the first time in decades.  You would not immediately think of having a state prison built in your back yard as a blessing, but for this town it truly was.

Nowadays, new kinds of “riches” are being mined in Pocahontas – the SPIRITUAL RICHES of God’s amazing grace.  The lives of these incarcerated men are being transformed and made new as they hear and accept the Good News of Jesus Christ.  GraceInside (Virginia’s State Prison Chaplain Service) has a special “missionary” in this prison, and his name is Chaplain Darrell Hunley.  Chaplain Hunley preaches, teaches the Bible, baptizes, serves communion, and coordinates and hosts groups of faithful religious volunteers from local churches and statewide ministries.  One of these partner ministries is Kairos (a national and international prison ministry group in which large teams of volunteers go into prisons to hold special “retreats” or multi-day events).  Kairos has a huge impact on even the most hardened prisoners.  Many experience God’s love for the first time during these events, and they are forever changed.

On the weekend of October 22nd, 2022 Chaplain Darrell Hunley and the Kairos Team at Pocahontas held an “open mic” service for inmate “Kairos graduates.”  The Holy Spirit moved mightily in this closing celebration, moving 16 inmates to express how God has moved in their lives. Chaplain Hunley says that he is still amazed at how the Holy Spirit moves, and he prays that this amazement never ends.

Here are some of the “spiritual riches” these inmates shared as they stepped to the microphone:

  • I thought I knew Christ , but now He’s my focus.
  • I came to just get out of the pod, but I got insight into who Jesus really is.
  • I’ve been doing time for 22 years, and I thought I was a believer, but now I truly feel God’s spirit in me!
  • This experience has gotten me back on my knees.
  • I’m not leaving what I learned behind: I’m taking it back to the pod for the Glory of God.
  • I asked what Kairos was all about. “Cookies and coffee” is what I was told, but I know now that I have to be a light in this dark place.
  • I came for the cookies; what I found was God, community, family and a renewed faith.
  • I can’t explain it, but God brought me here, and I thank Him for getting me here.
  • Satan had filled me with lies. Through this team of men, God showed up and set me straight.
  • I’m going home this coming Monday, and I’m grateful that God worked through Kairos to give me new insight and a new outlook.
  • I believed in God, but after yesterday I now know that I’m a child of God, a brother in Christ!
  • There wasn’t one speaker that didn’t impact me and change my life.
  • Prison is a horrible environment, but God made this the best weekend of my life!
  • I have learned that God can even LOVE someone like me.
  • It’s been amazing realizing that I can be forgiven!
  • Jesus is my chain breaker. I feel NEW now!

This special Kairos weekend event was just one of the many amazing ministries that Chaplains like Darrell Hunley coordinate, organize and participate in.  And just think: GraceInside has 33 Chaplains, serving at all 42 Virginia state correctional facilities, ministering to the spiritual needs of nearly 24,000 incarcerated men and women.  But we need YOUR help to make this happen! Our Chaplains are NOT state employees, so we depend on generous, sacrificial donations from individuals, churches and denominations to keep this unique ministry alive and thriving.

“What Can I Give Him, Poor As I Am?” Well, the little town of Pocahontas, VA may seem “poor” or economically disadvantaged, but just look at the SPIRITUAL riches and treasures that YOU are helping our Chaplains mine – both there and at the other Virginia state prisons.  Won’t you invest in chaplaincy and in the hearts and lives of incarcerated Virginians this Christmas??? 

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