HONDO, Texas – After nearly 20 years, Chapel for God’s Country Ministries finally raised $1.8 million in private and corporate donations to build a chapel at the Torres Prison Unit in Hondo.
However, Tom Patterson, who serves on the prison ministry’s board, said $200,000 is still needed for stained glass windows and to furnish and equip the sanctuary that will hold 300 inmates of all faiths.
Patterson said the nonprofit organization wanted to create a true sanctuary for them, “so they know that it’s different and this is special.”
He said otherwise it would be merely a shell of a building, much like the classroom and gymnasium that they now fill with folding chairs.
Patterson said it’s significant that the chapel will be at the front of the Torres Unit property.
“It’s just a powerful statement of what God can do in a place like this,” he said. “I have seen things I would never have thought possible in a prison.”
Patterson said based on state figures that he’s seen, 70 percent of inmates later return to prison, but for those who’ve taken part in faith-based programs, the return rate is below 20 percent.
Ricardo Avendano, who is serving time at Torres, said God has always been in his life, but he didn’t realize it until four years ago.
Avendano said he saw inmates radically change after accepting Jesus Christ and taking an active part in the prison ministry.
“One night, I said, ‘I think this is it.’ I got down on my knees and I cried out,” Avendano said. Then realized, “It’s not about me. It’s not about this or that. It’s eternity,” he said.
Avendano said when he’s released, he wants to be “not just a man getting out of prison, not just an adult or a father figure, but an actual father” to his now 13-year-old son.
He also wants to be a better husband so he can say to his wife, “Now I love you the way I couldn’t before because of Jesus.”
Isaiah Reina, who also has seen his life change for the better, said he remembers when God came into his life.
“May 4, 2011,” he said, after he received a bible quote from his aunt.
“It said, ’When you stop trusting yourself and put faith in me, I will direct your path,’" Reina recalled.
He said at that point he gave up his gang affiliation. Reina said he’d been in and out of custody since he was 12.
Both Avendano and Reina said they hope the public will support the ministry and its chapel.
“Ask the Lord to guide them in how to give, but it blesses us and we’re grateful,” Reina said.
Darren Wallace, the prison’s senior warden said, yes, there are those who say they believe in God in hopes it will work in their favor.
But “if you reach that one guy, you’ve prevented a victim on the outside in the future,” he said.