'Jesus House' Gives Freed Inmates a Second Chance in Indianapolis

Evangelist William Bumphus helps ex-offenders find new life

by Carol Shepard

Almost a year ago it was no more than a neighborhood eyesore, covered in graffiti–a boarded-up crack house that had been vacant 15 years. Now the two-story building in northwest Indianapolis boasts a new life, trumpeted to passersby by a small red and white sign that reads: "The Jesus House."

Although its residents are ex-offenders just discharged from prison, there are no drugs here. And the only party going on inside this house is what residents call "a Holy Ghost party."

An aftercare shelter for Christian men just released from prison, The Jesus House is more than that to its founder, prison evangelist William Bumphus. It’s a place of restoration for ex-offenders who found salvation while behind bars.

"I’m looking for men who want to serve God–those ‘sold out’ Christians," said Bumphus, who has led thousands of inmates to Christ. He established his Jesus Inside Prison Ministry soon after his release from prison 19 years ago.

The Jesus House is a sorely needed answer to the nation’s serious recidivism rate. Too many inmates return to prison because they leave with no more than a probation card, $50 and a bus ticket. Unless they’re discipled in the faith and offered lodging and employment assistance, the men, Bumphus knows, will most likely return to crime.

His vision for the facility was born in 1984 after a similar halfway house he started failed. "I learned the hard way you can’t mix street people and prisoners," Bumphus said.

In July 1997 the building was purchased with funding from local pastors. But neighbors opposed the home, and Bumphus had to install the furnace and plumbing himself.

Bumphus’ first guest arrived the next month, but the house wasn’t ready. Robert Weddington, 53, had just been discharged from a 12-year drug sentence. Weddington volunteered to help remodel the house, and today he serves as resident director.

"A Christian in prison spends 80 percent of his time praising God and studying the Word," Weddington said. "But when you leave prison, there is so much stress-mostly from trying to find a job."

Mark Barmes, 39, is one of the newest residents of The Jesus House. After serving more than four years of a 10-year child molesting sentence, Barmes moved to the facility in April.

Prison life had taken its toll on Barmes. He lost his family and a job making $80,000 a year. After prison he took a severe pay cut, had no transportation and lived in a hotel.

"Sometimes I feel all alone in this world," Barmes said. "But I can be myself at The Jesus House." Currently Barmes and Weddington are studying the Book of Proverbs together.

Weddington and Bumphus have implemented a strict program that provides a bridge Christian ex-offenders need. It offers safety, fellowship, accountability and time to adjust to civilian life.

"Seventy percent of their time here they’re in church or Bible-oriented discussions," Weddington said. Employment and residency referrals are also provided.

"It’s easier living inside prison than on the outside," Bumphus added. "The average guy in prison goes to church every day for seven years. When he gets out the church doors are only open once a week. Most prisoners don’t make it."

Bumphus believes a stay at The Jesus House–even though it is temporary–will keep men from returning to prison. "The devil doesn’t want these men to have power," he said. "We teach these guys how to be victorious in Christ."