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Elmore’s Davis gives 30 years to prison ministrycomment (0)

January 5, 2006

By Alicia Morris-Atcheson

When he was 29 years old, John Davis took his first step inside a state penitentiary. Thirty years later, he’s still glad he did.
In 1975, Davis was asked to help Harvey Sarber, a fellow member of Mount Hebron West Baptist Church, Elmore, in Elmore Baptist Association, with a prison ministry Sarber had established at the Draper Correctional Center in town. That first trip to the center turned into a chaplaincy and 30-year commitment to the inmates at that facility, as well as four years of volunteer service at the Frank Lee Youth Center in Deatsville.
“John Davis has received very little fanfare, yet he has shown up for 30 years, week after week after week, in this ministry. It just shows you where his heart is,” said Steve King, pastor of Mount Hebron West Baptist. 
Church members recently celebrated Davis’ years of service with a special Sunday morning service, surprising him with the Servant Leadership Award, an honor the church periodically gives in an effort to recognize members who have shown themselves to be servants.
“He’s not out to be recognized in any way, and that’s all the more reason to recognize him,” King said. “He cares for people nobody else in our society cares for, and that says a lot about his heart.”
Davis said he continues to run into former prisoners now back in society. He sees many at the yearly training sessions the jail offers. They are coming back to start their own prison ministries.
Part of Davis’ job as chaplain at the correctional facility requires him to coordinate various religious services. With an inmate population that includes American Indians, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, he had to find materials to meet the needs of each inmate.
“I came in contact with a lot of different religions that I wouldn’t have just being in my church,” Davis said. “Supplying them with materials about their faith allowed me to talk about my faith and share with them.”
Many of the materials he gave to inmates came from his church family. The congregation furnished study Bibles, Sunday School literature and LifeWay Christian Resources’ “Open Windows” devotionals for inmates.
According to Davis, the church’s commitment to these individuals does not end when they are released from prison. Church members furnish food and clothing during their first few weeks out and help them get established in halfway houses.
Davis said his family background has enabled him to relate more effectively to the inmates. As a young boy, he bootlegged alcohol with his uncle. Davis was a violent young man with a drinking problem, but he said when he accepted the Lord at age 16, his life changed.
“It’s just amazing when you sit down and share with them that you’ve been there, too. It builds a mutual ground,” Davis said. “They see the difference in my life, how God changed me, and I can tell them how God will do that for them.”
He uses his time to counsel inmates on topics ranging from marriage to death. Davis also counsels inmates’ family members and even attends relatives’ funerals if the services are nearby.
He holds Sunday morning services at Draper, a practice that was started by Sarber 54 years ago. On Monday nights, Davis has Bible studies, baptisms and the Lord’s Supper with the inmates. He also volunteers three to four days a week at the youth center.
Davis said he is unsure of the exact number of inmates who have come to know Christ during his time at the two facilities, but he could vividly recall one service.
“After we had completed a study of Proverbs, we baptized 31 men,” Davis said. “God’s Word has the power to work through anything.”
He said even though he may get tired of serving week after week, he never gets “burned out.”
“I just know the Lord has called me to this ministry. God has given me the gift to deal with people who’ve raped and murdered. In regular churches, people come down and talk with the preacher about what they’re facing. Well these guys come to me. So I just tell them how I found peace with the Lord and that no matter how bad they are, that God still loves them.”
Davis knows his work with the inmates is a vital, life-changing ministry. “It’s awesome to see those guys, once they’re out, out there doing Gods’ work. It makes it all worthwhile,” he said. 
“God says His Word won’t come back void, and that’s proven over and over again.”
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