Al Novak has been the lead chaplain in Genesee County for more than 32 years. He is a former officer who served on the metro Detroit police force for 17 years.
Along with 27 active associate chaplains and more than 200 volunteers, he conducts a wide range of jail ministry programs at the Genesee County Jail. The goal is to break the cycle of crime in the county where an average 16,000 inmates are housed annually at the Genesee County Jail.
After their release, nearly 75 percent, or three out of four inmates, will return to jail in three years. Forgotten Man Ministries (FMM) is effectively working to reduce the recidivism. Launched in 2012, its biblical principle workshop program called GRO Pod, GRO = God Restoring Offenders, is making a difference as are other FFM programs.
Twenty students at a time attend the GRO Pod for eight weeks, 21 hours a week. More than 150 graduate each year. Those graduating return to jail or prison at the rate of 20 percent, which means only one out of five who graduate from FMM’s GRO program return to jail.
Besides the GRO Pod, other mission programs include carts with books and magazines for inmates, three intake area preaching teams, Gideon Bible Distribution (upon inmate request only), and Bible Correspondence Courses (10,000 lessons per year are graded in Genesee County alone).
There are currently 50 group Bible studies per week in the jail, Friday evening worship services, prayer teams and countless hours of personal biblical counseling as well as Christian media ministry. FMM also offers online jail chaplaincy training classes.
Dollars are needed to continue to grow the work.For example, it costs $230 per student to complete GRO Pod training, along with handout materials.
To help raise money, the Annual Forgotten Man Ministries (FMM) Fundraiser Banquet for the Genesee County Mission was held on Oct. 24. Among the speakers were Sheriff Robert Pickell and Rev. Nate Deward, statewide director of FMM.
A former inmate, Jake Thomas, gave a touching personal testimony about being a graduate of the GRO Pod Program of the County Jail. He was struggling with substance abuse and has committed his life to Jesus as a result of having been ministered to by the FMM volunteers. He is now a business owner of a tree service.
Rev. Dr. Joseph Novak, senior pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Flint, offered a donor appeal.
I was pleased to share a testimony,a call to action and encourage attendees to see beyond their time and recognize how jail ministry today impacts generations to come.
In the Bible, Jesus said, “I was in prison and you came to visit me … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:36, 40
Genesee County is very fortunate to have such a dedicated ministry that does indeed remember the least among us, proving life changing programs that are changing the destinies of countless families for generations to come.
Stacy Swimp is special projects coordinator and a columnist for TheHUB Flint. His commentaries have appeared in the Washington Times, Miami Times, Orlando Sun, Philadelphia Tribune and Buffalo Criterion. He has appeared as a guest on Sirius satellite radio, WHO-Des Moines and KDKA-Pittsburgh, black media such as WVON-Chicago and Lee Bailey’s EURweb in addition to the Westwood One radio network. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lead image: Sheriff Robert Pickell and Chaplain Al Novak