Story by Tiffany Doss
Potomac Conference's Alexandria Spanish and Fredericksburg congregations in Virginia are currently connected to 18 Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) prisons, offering what possibly no other Adventist church in the world does—video conferencing to unite inmates with their loved ones.
Leaders from a Christian church in Richmond, Va., invited Ryland Holmes, the conference’s director for Families and Re-entry programs, to witness prison video conferencing. “At the time, [that church] had serviced more than 2,000 families,” explains Hector Cruz, senior coordinator for the Potomac Conference’s Prison Ministries department. “Ryland was so excited he called me and said I needed to come down right away to see this for myself. He was really touched by what this church was doing—it was connecting families with Virginia Department of Corrections.”
Through the Department of Corrections, officials work with leaders at participating entities to set up video-conferencing equipment. Inmates and families schedule a time to teleconference, then family members travel to a facility affiliated with the prison where their loved ones are held. In the designated room at participating locations, tablets compatible with DOC requirements are hooked up to TVs. Officials monitor conversations between inmates and family members and automatically cut the feed if there is any foul or inappropriate language, or if participants break a rule or regulation that is stated to them prior to the conversation. “The churches have a dedicated room comfortable for the families,” explains Cruz. “We want them to feel welcome so they can get the most out of their visits.”
Cruz has been involved with Prison Ministries since 1966, when his brother invited him, a 16-year-old, to visit a prison for youth inmates. “I didn’t think much about God then,” says Cruz. “When we went to the prison and spoke with this young man, I remember telling him to trust in the Lord, and when I came out of there, I was never the same.” Cruz chose to be baptized three months later and has been involved with Prison Ministries ever since.
The conference’s Prison Ministries department began in 1998 and now has a 60-member team. Cruz works with Prison Ministries teams across the Columbia Union Conference and encourages pastors and leaders to implement video conferencing in their churches. “We are so happy that God has given us the privilege to enhance this ministry,” says Cruz. “To our knowledge, we are the only ones denominationally providing this service. Right now only two churches are involved, but we hope more will join.”