Jail ministries bring hope, encouragement
What happens when you go out of your way to help someone who is hurting? You can change lives.
That’s what motivates Bill Wegener and Paulette Paprocki, members of St. Isidore Parish in Columbus, as they and other volunteers visit prisoners in county and juvenile detention centers – a corporal work of mercy.
Wegener visits inmates in the Madison and Platte County jails, and the Northeast Nebraska Juvenile Detention Center in Madison, while Paprocki coordinates the jail ministry and visits inmates in the Platte County jail.
Wegener’s ministry began eight years ago when his brother Don, a member of St. Mary Parish in Norfolk, needed help in the jail ministry he coordinated. Since then, he has met with prisoners incarcerated for drug- and alcohol-related offenses, thefts, assaults and other crimes.
"God gave me a gift for this ministry and the Holy Spirit works through me," Wegener said. "We start talking and see where the Holy Spirit takes us. We talk about Christ and what he did for us, and about life in general.
"We get to talking about God and about walking down a different road – making changes in their lives and putting God into it."
Paprocki, who began coordinating the jail ministry a year ago, visits female inmates at the Platte County jail, many of whom also are incarcerated for drug- and alcohol-related offenses. Together, they discuss and reflect on the previous Sunday’s readings, talk about Jesus and the Gospel, and how it applies to their lives.
"We try to be the face of Jesus to these women," Paprocki said.
"When they’re in the jail system, they have so much time on their hands," Wegener said. "That’s when they get focused on God and start reading the Bible; then it’s their choice whether they want to push it hard and really seek him."
When people are down and hitting bottom – that’s when they’re ready for change, he said.
"Some of the women we visit are pretty desperate," Paprocki said. "We try to give hope and encouragement, and when they hear that others have been in desperate situations and made it, that encourages them."
And sometimes there are tears as they realize how Jesus is working in their lives, she said. "Our job is to bring Christ to them by being kind and treating them with dignity. When you do that, it changes their demeanor. You can see it in the expressions on their faces."
Paprocki and Wegener know their work makes a difference.
"When we leave, the ladies thank us," Paprocki said. "I think they get that we care about them as persons and love them."
It’s a great gift from God to be able to minister to these folks," she said. "Every once in a while, someone might say, ‘I remember when you said … and it really helped me out.’"
"When you get out of your comfort zone and find the person that’s hurting the most, that’s when you can build a personal relationship, especially when working with the youth," Wegener said. "They are so open to receive and think about what you’re saying. Lives are being changed."