From Biblical Studies to Prison Ministry
When Cory Martin ’00 walked across the stage at graduation, he certainly didn’t expect that God would lead him to pursue jail ministry. He had just earned his bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies and planned to become a youth pastor.
“I always enjoyed studying theology, and so that’s what I took,” he says. “And then when I graduated, I kind of got stuck in politics for about 10 years, and so I never went into youth ministry.”
After 10 years in politics, Martin got a job overseeing educational development at The Crossing Educational Center.
“It was the first time I came in contact with people who were just vastly different than I was,” says Martin. “You got to see students and their families who were just really broken and had lots of obstacles to overcome. And everybody they knew came from that background.”
In August of 2013, one of the students Martin and his wife became very close with was arrested and sent to the Elkhart County Jail. They began visiting him.
“That was our first real exposure to jail ministry,” Martin recalls.
Still, Martin didn’t foresee any possibility of making a career change. But over time, as Martin and his wife continued to visit the jail, Martin’s heart was filled with compassion for all the inmates.
“The only difference between me and the guys at the jail is that my messes are different than their messes,” he says. “It’s easy to look at people from a distance and judge them for what they’ve done, but it changes when you get to know people — when you have a relationship with them. The judgment and condemnation are quickly replaced with compassion and mercy and grace.”
In 2014, Martin was appointed as the new Elkhart County Jail Chaplain. He says jail ministry is focused on building relationships and demonstrating genuine love to those who find themselves behind bars.
“When you realize that there’s really very little difference between the two of you, you treat them like you would any other person,” he says. “Our job is not to come in here and fix them or save them. We let God do the work.”
Martin hopes the relationships built with inmates will continue once they have served their time and are free to rejoin the community.
“What impacted me most at Bethel was the professors who I felt took a personal interest in my life,” he says. “And we try to translate that over into the jail ministry.”
Currently, Elkhart County has the largest county jail in the state of Indiana and a fairly large jail ministry program with about 500 volunteers, 18 assistant chaplains and about 100 churches involved.