Calvin students worship with prisoners

File photo.
File photo.

On the third Sunday of every month, approximately five Calvin students go to the Kent County jail.  They do not go under an arrest warrant, but instead to worship with the men in two or three different jail pods for Sunday afternoon services.

“Physically entering the jail and worshipping with those inside has broken down the stereotypes I’ve held and has given me a chance to see the inmates the way their Creator sees them: broken people stumbling down the road in pursuit of their Savior, just like me,” said Kelsey Veldkamp, a junior who has been going to the jail for the past year.

Junior Joel Altena also felt like his stereotypes surrounding the jail were broken down in his time there.

“Before I walked into that jail for the first time I thought they deserved to be there,” Altena said, “and I was just coming in to give them grace and what I believed was the truth. They don’t deserve it, though.”

Chaplain Nate Bradford, the instigator of this program at Calvin, wanted students to start seeing the injustices that are built into our legal systems, such as laws that target or more harshly punish those in poor, largely African American neighborhoods.

“Massive incarceration of the poor that affects African Americans in a greater percentage than others is one of the key problems of our day.  There is still a lot of segregation and jail is one legal way to do that,” said Bradford.

“My time working in jail has made me more aware that the reason I am not there has more to with the color of my skin and the neighborhood I live in than anything else,” said senior Nicole Schmitt.  “People can go to jail for unpaid parking tickets, but I am just not in a place where people get caught.”

“These men are human beings,” said Altena.  “They have stories and families. They have hopes, desires and passions. And just because they were caught for their offenses, they are losing these things. They are having their human rights taken away. And that is why they don’t deserve to be stuck there, or if they do, than I do as well.”

“As we sing together, pray together and hear a message of empowerment, of grace and of the love of Jesus Christ, together we affirm the fact that God forgives us for our sins,” Altena said.

Bradford says he would love to get as many Calvin students through this program as possible as a way of showing them that there are victims of injustice just down the road from our campus.

“Any amount of words on a page or even stories you hear can change the intellect, but until you see something or experience something, the heart is not changed and actions will not change … yet there is a really big reality shift that can happen.”

Bradford also says that this is not just a hobby or issue for some Christians, but for the church as a whole.

“The whole church needs to care about justice and loving our neighbors as ourselves,” Bradford said.  “Who is my neighbor?  It’s the person most unlike you, not the person easiest to love.  We need to think about the people who are near us and most unlike us.  How do we love them well?”

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