Prison ministry veteran had ‘Nehemiah’ calling
to build where state prisons cut back.
Frank Graham considers his a Nehemiah story: Things were so bad back in Jerusalem, he, like the old prophet, could no longer sit and do nothing.
His Jerusalem is Texas, and Graham, an ordained Southern Baptist minister who had been involved in discipleship ministry for prisoners in the 1980s and early 90s, was increasingly burdened with the lack of chapel space in newly built state prisons.
Texas has 145,000 inmates and more prisons, 112, than any state.
The need for worship space in Texas prisons is great, Graham contends, because prisons the state built in the 1980s designated one relatively small room for religious activity. In the 1990s, new prisons allotted no religious program space, he said.
So Graham, like Nehemiah, was moved to act.
He has raised funds for seven chapels built in Texas prisons since 1997. It took him three years of selling his vision to raise money for the first one. Since then, six more have gone up.
His Chapel of Hope Ministries, a work he began in 1994, hopes to build its eighth chapel?a simple, 8,450-square-foot building?at the Woodman State Jail in Gatesville, the processing station for 8,000 women sent to Texas state prisons.
To do it, he’s selling commemorative bricks, at $75, $150, $300 and $1,200 a pop, each with an engraved, customized message of the donor’s choosing.
Once built, the chapels are owned and maintained by the state.
“I saw men being turned away?no room,” Graham lamented. “I knew somehow, some way, God was calling me to a very unique ministry.”
Graham, a member of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, got involved in prison ministry through a Baptist layman, Jack Wilcox, whom he helped in teaching the Masterlife discipleship curriculum to inmates. Soon, Graham was going to the prisons on his own and ministering, “then God led me to the need of chapels in prisons.”
“In the ’40s and ’50s, all our prisons had chapels with crosses on top of the buildings. In the ’80s we built prisons with only one room that would seat 60 people for prisons housing 2,500-3,000 inmates. In the ’90s, we had the largest expansion of prisons in history, with almost 80 built” but with no space for religious activities.
In 1994, with a sense of God’s call and not much else but a burden, Chapel of Hope Ministries incorporated.
“We went two years and did not have one supporter nor any funding to build any chapels. I lived off whatever savings we had,” Graham recalled. Not long after the ministry began Graham and his wife, (name ?), completed the “Experiencing God” study by Henry Blackaby.
Where Blackaby discusses obedience to God being preceded by a crisis of belief, the Grahams can relate.
They had two kids in college plus car and house payments.
“No help, no supporters, but we just knew God had called us to that ministry,” Graham said.
“She saw it, she felt it and we trusted God. Just like Nehemiah, I couldn’t turn back.</