Karina Cowan
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Commissioned in 1990, Paul along with his wife, Michelle, has always persevered to serve the Lord in ministry. Over 25 years ago, Paul began ministry full-time with Threshold Ministries as a Youth Pastor in Scarborough, ON. For the past 16 years Paul has served in various administrative roles with Threshold Ministries’ head office as well as with Equipping Evangelists. Last year, he felt a calling for something new, completely different and challenging. God was calling him to return to the field with others, serving the community as a Community Chaplain.

And so, with the Spirit in his heart and the Bible in his pocket, Paul walked into a new role and office at Keele Community Correction Centre (CSC). Located in the west end of Toronto, the Keele Centre is a post-release minimum security residence centre for 40 men from federal institutions, providing counselling, employment aid and rehabilitation. Since July, Paul has had many decent relationship building opportunities with offenders. From Paul's standpoint, the residents are feeling a difference when they talk to him. He enjoys an open door and relationship policy that some take advantage of and others ignore. Through pastoral care Paul will only engage with about half the men in the facility, as some will be out through the day at jobs, which, Paul admits, is a good thing as it means they are successfully reintegrating in the community.

“God’s Grace is Necessary for the chaplaincy ministry” - Paul

Paul’s chaplaincy office is large enough for gatherings, small groups, bible studies and clothing storage, collecting and giving free clothing as some men come with nothing but the clothes on their back. For many, life inside consists of routine with TV and video games as a source of entertainment. Paul is working on setting up a book club once or twice a month to encourage community and add something positive in their lives. He is also working on putting together a monthly meal where everyone will sit down together for healthy food and conversation. Paul says that for many men, eating healthy meals and budgeting for and rationing groceries is not something that comes easy to them. Dinner meetings will provide a time for sustenance, good conversation and as an opportunity to teach about healthy living.

Men come and go from the centre as they are reintegrated into society, but unfortunately many end up back in prison. Some will stay at the Keele Centre for years and many are ‘institutionalized lifers’. An example would be one man Paul works with who has only spent 10 combined months out of prison in the last 20 years. Others were very young when they offended and after being in prison for years, find groups and the large city overwhelming. For them, arriving at the Keele centre in bustling Toronto is a huge adjustment as some don’t understand how to function outside of prison walls, let alone know how to use public transportation to get around the city.

“We want to provide hope, and we need to just keep praying.” - Paul

Working with Parole Officers and Counsellors has been a blessing for Paul as well. They see the value in chaplains and work together as a team. Paul states that he doesn’t know how those working in this field could do it without God’s hope to keep you going and fall back on. With the demand on those working within the prison system, suicide in these professions is an issue, therefore sharing God’s love and hope with everyone involved is very important.

When asked how Paul’s training with Threshold prepared him for this role, Paul responded: “my training was the perfect balance of theory and practical. I was placed in ministries like street work where I came face-to-face with real need stretching my experience from (often) sterile, safe, church. Then back to class where teachers/mentors helped me process, from a biblical standpoint, my thoughts and experiences.”

Because of the stigma of prison ministry, finding community support is a challenge. Paul is working with others in the area to get churches to invest in chaplaincy activities like the monthly meal. Join us in praying for Paul and other Threshold Evangelists who are working in prison ministry. May they be blessed with God’s grace as they share His hope with this very vulnerable group of people, dearly loved by God.