By Mason W. Canales
Killeen Daily Herald
Donors and volunteers received not only praise from their fellow ministry group but from a former Texas inmate at the JAIL Ministry Inc. annual banquet Tuesday night.
"I want to thank you for volunteering, because it was volunteers like you or donors like you ... that influenced me," Rick Vasquez said to those who sat at the annual banquet for Jesus Acts in Inmate's Lives Ministry Inc. "Don't give up, pray for them, keep sending them Bibles. ... We can't change them, but God can."
Vasquez is a Texas Field Director of Fellowship Ministries and a former Texas inmate. He shared his life story with the banquet attendees.
"For me, it is a privilege, to be here because under normal circumstances I wouldn't, I would be behind bars," Vasquez said starting his speech at the banquet.
He continued by sharing how he was taken to a juvenile center for the first time at age 12 for stealing food from his neighbor's house to feed himself and his hungry sisters.
"I left there, and I was scared, and I was proud, because I could provide," he said recollecting his trip across his neighbor's yard on that rainy day.
Being put in handcuffs and going to the juvenile center for the first time didn't do much for him, Vasquez said.
"And all that did was make me regret getting caught, and I didn't want to get caught again," he said about continuing a life of crime.
Vasquez went on to describe going back to jail after he was 16, and how he became a leader of one of the largest Texas inmate gangs until God made him question his life.
"I found myself alone with no one to trust," Vasquez said during his speech. "Trust and follow me and nothing else matters," he added, saying he heard a voice at the end of a popular Metallica song before having a dream to choose between the life he was living and a life of following God.
Vasquez wanted to remind all those who volunteer as part of the ministry that they need to keep trying to spread the message of the Bible in the prison system.
For those who question "can God take care of me? I am here to tell you he can," Vasquez said.
Bell County Sheriff Dan Smith, JAIL's Executive Director Steve Cannon, UMHB's Director of Church Relations Bill Muske, and Director of Men's Ministry Johner Martin were also major speakers during the banquet.
Smith spoke on how much the Bell County Jail needs the JAIL program.
"It is about changing hearts, because if we can't do that how can we change a life of crime," Smith said.
Cannon recognized staff, volunteers and contributors, before introducing Cheryl Baird, JAIL's Juvenile Service Center Coordinator.
Together Baird and Cannon gave Angel Unaware Awards to Charlene Harvey, a Juvenile Service Center volunteer, and Alan Muller, a Bell County Jail volunteer.
"I love working with the kids," Harvey said. "It is not a chore, it is a passion."
Martin shared the view of JAIL, and Muske told people in attendance how to donate time or money to the program.
JAIL is a nondenominational program that shares the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Bell County inmates and Bell County Juvenile detainees, Cannon said. It offers about 32 Bible studies a week to both facilities.
Contact Mason W. Canales at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7554.