TWU students serve local prison inmates
TWU students Kaylie Arsenault and Adam Wowchuk have found a tangible way to live out their faith: through TWU’s GO Prison Mission. The duo leads a team of volunteer students who visit the men’s and women’s prisons in Maple Ridge each week. “We want to allow the inmates to find hope and healing in Christ,” says Wowchuk.
Volunteers—who need security clearance to enter the facilities— build relationships, provide a listening ear, and facilitate a time of worship, testimony sharing, and Scripture reading.
“Prison ministry is the wildest experience you can get,” said Arsenault. On a recent visit to the women’s prison, Arsenault’s team, tired and stressed with exams and papers, entered the maximum-security prison with “nothing but God’s strength.”
The students began sharing the Gospel and their own testimonies, and praying with inmates in their ward. By the end of the visit, 12 women had come to Christ—and, combined with two more from the men’s prison, the new believers outnumbered the TWU volunteers. “We’re not chaplains," Wowchuk said, "but God is in this."
A January 2015 report by the Auditor General found that BC’s prisons are overcrowded, unsafe, and failing to provide enough rehabilitation. It reported that centres operate at an average 140 per cent occupancy, meaning that rooms intended for single- or double-occupancy are retrofitted for more inmates. Because rehabilitation and support services are beyond capacity, many prisoners become repeat offenders.
To address the cyclical system, GO Prison Mission plans to partner with local churches to provide a supportive network to assist with societal reintegration for inmates. “Inmates need genuine, authentic relationships that can only come from outreach-focused groups,” Wowchuk said.
As government employees, prison chaplains must wait for inmates to come to them. But the student volunteers have the freedom to build relationships and address inmates’ questions in an informal setting. GO Prison Mission is well positioned to fill that relational gap.
“It’s a really interesting time,” Arsenault said, “because the inmates’ lives are placed on hold, temptations are quieted, and they have a lot of time to think.” With the women in particular, the ministry is a time of vulnerability and building trust.
GO Prison Mission was founded by an ACTS student in the early 2000s. Wowchuk joined the outreach in 2012, later taking leadership with the aim to grow the ministry, and Arsenault, who was instrumental in expanding to the women’s prison, came on board in 2013.
Chett Fitchett, outreach and evangelism coordinator for Student Ministries, describes outreach as part of the University’s holistic education. “The dual transformation that takes place both in the lives of people we serve and in the lives of those serving is what I am most passionate about,” he said. “It’s the reason local outreach is such an important part of the educational fabric at TWU.”
L.O.V.E. (Local Outreach, Volunteering, and Evangelism) Ministries is one part of Student Ministries, and encompasses 13 different outreach groups, providing opportunities for students to volunteer with youth, children, inmates, the elderly, the homeless, and more.
“Here at TWU, we have so much poured into us, and to go pour it out in response? That’s powerful!” Arsenault said.
Although the school year has come to an end, both leaders look forward to returning to ministry in the fall. Arsenault, interested in criminal justice and psychology, and Wowchuk, hoping to use his business degree to practically serve former inmates, see prison ministry as part of their lifelong vocations. “This is it,” Wowchuk said. “This is what I could do for the rest of my life.”