By Margie Wuebker
The Rev. Randy Christian and his wife Tricia share a unique ministry serving men and women on both sides of the law.
The couple are chaplains for Mercer County Sheriff's Office personnel and county jail inmates.
Christian initially responded to calls placed on behalf of inmates after becoming pastor of The Lord's Church 12 years ago. What began as a jail ministry took on a new dimension in 2003.
"I made connections with the officers and one of them suggested talking with Sheriff Jeff Grey and Chief Deputy Tim Fink about a chaplaincy program," he says. "We sat down together to make sure everyone was on the same page."
Grey said he quickly realized the benefits of such a program for everyone -- deputies, dispatchers, corrections officers and the ever-changing jail population -- and appointed the couple unpaid reserve deputies. "Pastor Randy is a calming voice in the storm," the sheriff says. "He listens quietly and then prays with those in need of support. We see a lot of good in the course of our duties, but we also see all the craziness the world has to offer."
Christian and his wife do not divulge what is told to them in confidence on both sides of the law. He deals with male employees and inmates while she handles female concerns.
"He has helped me through trying times like budget concerns that could lead to layoffs," Grey says. "We have prayed together for guidance and for the safety and well-being of everyone associated with the sheriff's office."
One of the greatest benefits of the chaplaincy program has been in the area of death notification following traffic accidents and suicides, according to the sheriff.
The call can come any time day or night. Sometimes Christian responds to the scene and at other times he follows the deputy to a home.
"I do a lot of praying en route to the scene," Christian says quietly. "Sometimes the family is there, and I get with them immediately. I also call my wife so she can get prayers going on the homefront."
The first such summons came shortly after being sworn in as a reserve officer in January 2003. The one-car crash, which took place near his sister's home, claimed the life of 6-year-old Adam Harner. Christian knew the parents (Mike and Sheryl Harner) well and officiated at the funeral.
"People react to tragedies in different ways," Grey says. "We can answer their questions about how the tragedy occurred; Randy offers them support in other ways."
That support might involve contacting the family's minister or priest, offering prayers or merely providing a reassuring presence. On one occasion he accompanied grieving parents as they brought news of a son's death in a traffic accident to siblings working at the time. He remains flexible because each situation is different.
Christian periodically rides with deputies on patrol, viewing the time spent traveling around the county as a means of establishing a bond. Sometimes the officer feels the need to share concerns and at other times the conversation remains casual.
"I want them to know I'm available if they feel the need to talk," he says. "They deal with all kinds of situations you and I may never encounter during the course of our lives. Their's is often a thankless task, and they do a great job."
Calls from the jail also come day and night with the Christians responding to the needs of those charged with misdemeanors or the more serious felonies.
"It goes in spells," Tricia Christian says. "Sometimes we go a month or two without a call, and then we get three or four back to back."
The one-on-one sessions take place in the jail conference room -- the same room where prisoners hold confidential meetings with their attorneys. Inmates sometimes feel the need for spiritual support and even forgiveness.
"There is no sin too hard for God to forgive," she says as her husband nods in silent agreement. "We're all guilty of sin before inviting the Lord into our lives."
Randy Christian, who once had a restaurant and barber shop in Mendon before entering Bible college at the age of 30, sighs heavily recalling some troubled men facing long prison terms. Their pleas for help often come in the middle of the night when feelings of fear, guilt and hopelessness banish any vestige of sleep.
"When all hope is shattered, there is still Jesus and one of his names is The Living Hope. I encourage them to look beyond their present circumstances," he says.
The Christians, who have three sons and four grandchildren, feel this ministry is another means of sharing their passion for Jesus with others in an ecumenical way.
"The Lord gives us what we need to help others," he says. "And we feel honored to serve him whether it is in a church or in the jail."