Ministry to Former Prisoners Aftercare for prisoners has been lacking for many years and the recidivism rate extends beyond eighty-percent. Now, people like Clevelander, Mylion Waite have begun to breach the gap by helping those once forsaken.
by Kirk Rattray
Many of us know the verse in 2nd Corinthians that states " if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation." But few of us remember that the following verses call us to be ambassadors for Christ. One area woman takes this calling to heart. She has spoken and ministered in dozens of countries, fulfilling the Biblical mandate to go into all the world. She was one of the first people to visit the Soviet Union on a government-sponsored apolitical mission, and preached her first sermon in Cuba. As a member or director of numerous church councils, she has garnered invaluable political, social and spiritual savvy. Yet, instead of preaching to kings, this humble servant of God is now ambassador to the most downtrodden members of society. She currently ministers to inmates in prison or those recently released.
Despite her lifetime of accomplishments, Mylion Waite is a person who is easy to talk to. This warm bubbly east-sider grew up locally, attending John Hay High School. She has graduated from Cuyahoga Community College, Case Western Reserve University and Ashland Theological Seminary. She once aspired to be a nursery school teacher, but God had bigger plans. She is now the associate pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, and is director of the Open Door Fellowship Worship Hour.
Mylion traces God's call on her life to an early age. Her grandfather was a minister in Alabama, and her mother has pastored a Pentecostal church for over fifty years, so she has "always been surrounded by people of strong faith." She gave her life to Christ at age seven. Her mentor in urban ministry was her mother, who Mylion lovingly recalls as "a marvelous model of urban missions." In the 50s and 60s her mother was "a local missionary who fed people from her back porch before government programs came out." Her mom's goal was "helping others to see themselves in Jesus." No one was denied food, clothing, or even an occasional invitation to dinner.
After graduating from high school and attending college, Mylion stopped going to church in her early 20s, experimenting with what the world had to offer. She was prompted to returning when her daughter, then in 3rd grade, came home from school one day, and announced "I'm the only kid in my class that doesn't have a religion." Mylion started attending The Church of the Covenant in Cleveland Heights, and joined The Inner Council of Churches, becoming the director of the hunger program. Her leadership skills were further evidenced when in the early 1980s she was promoted to be director of the Church and Society program. Here, she oversaw the administration of social and service programs. She also helped write the social justice programs for over 350 different church councils, addressing issues ranging from policy for South Africa to welfare reform.
It was in this capacity that Mylion traveled the world. She laughs when she notes that she has "a hundred stories for every country I visited." She reeled off some of her experiences. Visiting the Soviet Union in 1984, the first government sponsored ministry trip for that country; preaching in Cuba on a peace mission; smuggling Bibles to dissidents in the USSR, and getting caught; smuggling art books for Jewish people to sell on the black market, to augment their income. She traveled the world throughout the mid 1990s, but God still had a more specific ambassador position in mind for her.
In 1987, Mylion joined to Antioch Baptist Church, after graduating from Ashland. In 1995, she became the director of Christian Education at the church. Last year, she was appointed associate Pastor, and is responsible for all outreach ministries. One of the ministries she heads is the Open Door Fellowship Worship Hour. The purpose of this two-year-old ministry is twofold, to minister to those still in prison and to those recently released from prison. Ministering inside of prison can range from visits by a full choir to distribution of personal hygiene kits, drum kits, or even large print Bibles. After a person is released is when the ministry faces its greatest challenge.
The starting point for a new lifestyle is the Antioch Baptist Church at East 89th and Cedar. On the second and fourth Sundays of each month, ex-offenders can gather at 4:00 P.M. for an hour of worship and testimonies. Since they grow spiritually, ex-offenders then lead the worship, meditation and prayers during this service.
Next, overwhelming physical needs must be addressed. Because family and employment ties are severed during incarceration. Mylion notes that "They come back with nothing. They sleep wherever they can with whoever takes them in." Mylion cautions that without any support system "it is so easy to slip back into old patterns." This is where mentors help former offenders find places to live, employment, job training or assistance completing their G.E.D.s. Mentors "stand side by side with someone who as stumbled," even repeatedly. Because "the first six months are really tough on people" Antioch church is currently looking for a halfway house to assist the neediest.
Once physical needs are met, spiritual issues are addressed. The biggest issue is the matter of submission to God. Former offenders must surrender their will and say, "I need help." They must acknowledge that they have lost control of their lives, because "generally, they think they can do it (change) on their own." Former offenders must also confess responsibility for their situations, or change will never occur. Mylion cites the example of a young man who is currently incarcerated, writing to her "its everybody else's fault" but his own.
A second spiritual issue that needs to be addressed is one of accountability, to both God and man. This is where Mylion sees Christ in her ministry, because "once they accept that God is the answer, they lose the desire" for the old lifestyle and "become strong enough to overcome." She sees people change when "the things that they used to do, they don't do anymore." After the disciplines of submission and accountability are administered, healing in a former offender can begin. Issues of self worth and forgiveness are tackled, and offenders are taught to "take it to the Lord and leave it there." They are also taught to pursue God in prayer, because "when you pray, and really pray where you are in the presence of God, many of us stop before we get there."
Ministering to former convicts requires, first and foremost, God's call on your life. A person must then be indefatigable, because Mylion warns that, "you can't get tired" of service. Honesty and sincerity are important too, because former offenders must see that "God is in you." Reminiscent of her mother's ministry, Mylion commends us to think, "every person I see is the face of God." Finally, a tough hide is necessary for prison ministry. Mylion volunteers that after all these years of ministering, "I don't get shocked by too much by too many things."
Interestingly, when asked what factors typically lead someone to prison, Mylion denounces poverty as a cause. "If it was poverty, we wouldn't have enough prisons to hold them." She believes that the real reason people end up in prison is that "we have huge numbers of people in society just found to be expendable." She decries the current system and asks, "what's a growing industry in America? The prison system." She cites examples of prisoners paying excessive telephone charges, and the fact that they must buy hygiene kits when she could provide them for free. She laments that "It's a business for somebody. You get millionaires out of there." To avoid prison, she encourages parents to strive daily to train their children according to Proverbs 3, nothing that "you teach children like you teach table manners-you do it all the time."
All of her life's experiences, titles, and travels have uniquely qualified Mylion Waite to minister one-on-one to Cleveland's loneliest populace-prison inmates. She is inspired by the scriptures in Matthew 25, that equate ministering to those in prison with ministering to Jesus Himself. But Mylion's view of her ministry is much simpler. She simply states that I "need to make the folks in prison human again."