Stains Honored as Prison Outreach Ministry Volunteer
Warden Bobby Meeks presents award to Dr. David Stains.
The Rev. Dr. David Stains, who has played a key role in Western Pennsylvania’s Prison Outreach Ministry since 1998, was honored this year as Volunteer of the Year during a banquet at the Federal Correctional Institution-McKean. As a volunteer there, he led Bible studies and worship in Spanish and provided other religious services.
In presenting the award, Warden Bobby L. Meeks underscored the importance of volunteers by acknowledging the emotional and mental support they provide inmates.
“I had a monthly chapel service for the Hispanic community,” Stains said. “Those were very productive. We had a service with over 40 baptisms. It was the largest baptism I have been involved with. We saved the big one for last! We flooded whole floor with all 40.”
With more than 200 Hispanic inmates in the prison, Stains said there are some who never who never came to Bible studies . Some of the inmates are imprisoned in the federal facilities in Pennsylvania because their crimes came under federal jurisdiction, although they may have been committed at an airport in their own country.
Stains, who translated three Disciple Bible Study courses into Spanish for use in the prison ministry, usually works with Spanish-speaking inmates in prisons near where he is appointed. Besides FCI-McKean, he has volunteered at state correctional institutions in Forest County, Loretto, and briefly at Cresson.
While volunteering at the Loretto prison, Stains ministered to relatives of people from the Dominican Republic who died in a plane crash in New York harbor shortly after 9-11. “It was the only funeral service we could provide those people,” he said.
On July 1, Stains began a new appointment at Oak View UMC in Greene County after serving six years at Evans Memorial UMC in the Kane District. In his new appointment, he said, he hopes to work his way into service at Waynesburg.
“We have basically used the Disciple series. That’s why I have done so many translations,” Stains said. Prison Outreach Ministry, through the late Dorie Heckman, approached Bishop Richard Wilkie, Disciple’s creator, and he gave permission for the ministry to translate the studies into Spanish for use in the prison. “He also gave permission for them to be used outside the U.S. ,” said Stains, who for many years has worked as a liaison to the Encounter with Christ in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Prison Outreach Ministry volunteers provide Bible study in English or Spanish and support for inmates in several jails and prisons in Western PA. “Most places average about two dozen regulars in attendance at the studies, with another dozen or so coming and going,” Stains said.
“We try to provide every prisoner with a Bible – a study Bible with notes -- and a copy of Disciple Bible study material. The cost is more than $50 per participant. For the congregations that support POM, it’s an important commitment on several fronts,” he said.
“The return rate for prisoners who get active in ministries like this is much lower. Recidivism for others is over 70 percent and for those that do get involved in these sorts of ministries, it is less than 10 percent. That’s a significant difference! It really does start with the heart of whoever is involved and goes from there. It’s what we United Methodists have always said,” he added.
Their work is led by a part-time missionary, Randy Datsko. Heckman, who died last year after a struggle with cancer, served as secretary-treasurer and took the ministry’s message to many churches that provide support through donations. She also did the POM newsletter.
In many ways, Stains said, the ministry is still recovering from her death. “She worked with me at McKean FCI and she was our typist for the Spanish translations. When she died, translation of Disciple 4 wasn’t complete.” The Rev. Tim McConville, pastor of Hill Memorial UMC in Bradford, has taken on the role of Secretary/Treasurer.
Although donations are down, Stains said, “Our biggest problem is recruitment, especially for the programs in Spanish. There are prisons that have Hispanic prisoners, but no volunteers who speak Spanish to go in to lead worship. We’ve always said we’ll find the money for the manuals and Bibles if someone will go in.
Stains said that although potential volunteers may have security concerns, the prisons address those. If we obey their rules, they provide the security. Several United Methodist pastors are involved in the Prison Outreach Ministry. These clergy, said Stains, “are very eager to include brother and sister pastors in ministry programs. For people that care about Christian ministry, the opportunity to share the love of Jesus is a tremendous opportunity that I would like to see more of my colleagues—clergy and laity--take advantage of. "
Contact Prison Outreach Ministry at 30 White St., Brookville, PA 15825 or 814-849-2612. Call to schedule Datsko, who leads studies at SCI Laurel Highlands and FCI Loretto, to speak to your church or organization.
Prison Outreach Ministry is a Conference Advance Special, # CC003300. Send donations to the Conference Treasurer’s Office at Box 5002, Cranberry Twp, PA 16066.