A Jonesboro church has raised funds to buy half the Bibles needed for inmates at the Clayton County Jail, and members hope other congregations will join them in the drive to fund the other half.
The Bibles, "Free on the Inside," feature testimonials from inmates to offer hope and encouragement to others who are incarcerated.
Apostolic Tabernacle members discovered through their prison ministry that the jail was desperate for Bibles. Members made, and sold, crocheted items, and created a web site with PayPal to make it easy for the public to make a donation. Other fund-raisers are also planned.
Clayton County Sheriff's Head Chaplain Fred Shillow said most of the county's 1,800 inmates crave religious guidance. On Thursday, the church donated 480 of about 1,000 Bibles the jail needs.
"This is one of the most requested Bibles, because there are testimonials from other inmates in it," he said. "Inmates look for this because it gives them hope. They welcome the stories because when their situation looks bad or hopeless, they can see there is light at the end of the tunnel."
Shillow heads a staff of six chaplains, including Stan Owens.
"When people are incarcerated and the shock of being here wears off, they deal with the reality of who they are, and why they are here," said Owens. "They need the tools to discover the answers to drug abuse, anger and other social ills. A tool like this? How can you put a value on it? It means everything, it means a lot."
The Bibles project was driven by the church's longtime pastor, B.S. Coles, who recently retired after more than 44 years of service. Coles, who turns 81 next month, was unable to participate in Thursday's donation. However, his successor, Talmadge French, helped in the delivery.
"Inmates want something tangible beyond words," he said. "There is a lot of interest."
French's wife, Rebecca, described the need as a "spiritual hunger."
Members, Stephen and Janette Mueller, were also on hand Thursday for the special delivery.
"We've been telling inmates to read the Bible and pray, but we have to provide them the tools to do so," said Stephen Mueller. "And there is always a need, because there is a turnover in the jail, people going in and out."
Fellow member, Lisa Jenks, said buying a Bible for an inmate is a cheap way to make a difference in someone's life.
"We hope others will want to take an active role in making a difference," said Jenks. "I mean, for $3.50, you can buy a Happy Meal, or you can buy a Bible. We'd like to see other churches get involved, too."
Shillow said he and his staff are impressed by the work the church has done in raising money to buy the Bibles. "This has been a great undertaking, but it tells us this church has heart and reaches out to others," he said. "Lots of people want to preach, but don't want to take a dollar to do it, and the biggest need is the Word."
Member, Cindy Rhindress, said she continues to be blessed by the prison ministry.
"It is an awesome ministry," she said. "You just get blessed even if just one soul is reached. Even if the inmates don't speak, you can see the hunger in their eyes. All they ask of us is a Bible."
To make a donation through the web site, access www.freeontheinside.webs.com.