2016-01-31 / Insight

Forgotten Man Ministries brings Christ to inmates

BY KRYSTAL JOHNS
810-452-2609 •

LAPEER — It’s no secret that many turn to God at the lowest points in their lives, looking for answers, assistance and guidance. For those whose situation is self-inflicted, it might be more difficult to find support, but perhaps they are the people that need the most understanding. That’s why Scott Cox does what he does, even though it isn’t an easy calling.

Cox has been working with the Forgotten Man Ministries at Lapeer County Jail for about 17 years, the past five of which he has served as the jail’s chaplain. He first got involved when a pastor took him to the jail to volunteer.

“I really didn’t like it at first,” he said, “but I said ‘if you really want me to do this, Lord, change my heart.’”

That’s all it took, he said, to make him fall in love with the ministry he was providing.

Now, he orchestrates a rotation of local pastors who offer a weekly church service at the jail, nearly 100 Bible studies per month, a book cart loaded with spiritual books, and more, including T-shirts, underwear, socks, pencils, paper, envelopes, and hygiene products for indigent inmates.

“Our main thing is to bring Christ to them,” he said. “We believe that there’s no law but love, no hope but Christ and no book but the Bible. That’s our motto.”

The program is entirely voluntary for inmates, and Cox estimates nearly half of them opt to attend church services, while fewer — maybe 35 percent — participate in Bible study. A smaller group take it even farther and take part in more in-depth Bible study series, which end with a test. Those who pass are rewarded with a Bible of their own.

Cox puts in about 12 hours a week at the jail, though he is on-call 24 hours a day. He often participates in the notification process if an inmate needs to be informed of the passing of a loved one on the outside. He also sometimes attends funerals of those he knew when they were incarcerated.

Obviously, that’s the most difficult part of the job.

There are rewards, too, though, which keep Cox and his volunteers coming back for more.

For example, when he’s out raising funds to keep the non-profit operating, Cox will sometimes spot a former inmate in the congregation at a local church.

“It lifts our spirits,” he said. “It’s like our work’s not in vain.”

Cox has heard from former inmates in whose lives he’s played a positive role. One, for example, is in prison for 75 years to life, but said if he’d been exposed to a program like Forgotten Man Ministries earlier in his life, he wouldn’t be in prison. Another, an inmate who was at one point very bad news, has now been out of jail for years, is married, a father, and serving as an assistant pastor in a Flint church.

“I was the best man at his wedding,” Cox said. “When you see stuff like that, you know that God’s making a difference, and you just keep going.”

If you’d like more information, to donate, or to volunteer, visit www.forgottenman.org/locations/Lapeer. mindful that everyone’s beliefs may not be completely in sync with yours.

In 1890, the Wisconsin Supreme Court sided with Catholics who objected to the use of the King James version of the Bible. Weiss v. District Board only applied to Wisconsin schools and prayer stayed a part of the school experience, until Steven I. Engel became upset over his child reciting the school prayer approved by the New York Board of Regents in 1955.

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 8-1 in 1962 that reciting the Regents’ Prayer in public schools was unlawful, marking the beginning of the end of school prayer.

Schneider, who retired as a police captain in Fort Lauderdale, recalled there was a large Jewish community there, “and we had to be sensitive to those beliefs.”

He said as a government representative, he’s mindful that when he’s offering a prayer at a commission meeting, he can recognize a higher power, but he can’t promote a particular denomination.

Schneider said one of the things that drew him and his family to Lapeer County when he retired was that it’s a “strong faith-based piece of America.” But he added, “We need to be open to others.” He said there are a lot of denominations in the county, “and we need to be mindful of that fact.”

He noted that while the county commission has long opened its meetings with a prayer, most local governments in Lapeer County do not.

In 2010, Lapeer City Commissioner A. Wayne Bennett, who is also an ordained minister who pastors the Pathway Church in Oxford Township pushed for, but failed to get an official prayer at the beginning of city commission meetings.

At the time, city clerk Donna Cronce noted that along with the county commission, only Imlay Township and the Village of North Branch, out of the county’s 26 jurisdictions, held official prayers.

Commissioner Debbie Marquardt commented, “Just because we are not holding an invocation doesn’t mean we aren’t asking the Lord for guidance in all that we do ... But government and church should be separate.”

Bennett’s motion died for lack of support, but two weeks later during the public comment period of the city commission meeting Mayfield Township resident Georgeann Courser stood and offered a brief prayer. The practice has continued ever since.

Schneider noted that while government officials may be constrained somewhat in what they say in public prayer, the public is not.

“If public feels strongly, they can stand up and say what they feel,” said Schneider, noting the government cannot restrain public comment.

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