Church summit to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society

The Christian Community Church likes to emphasize this first word of its name.

It’s a philosophy of evangelism that extends beyond the church’s seven sites in the Chicago area, including Naperville, Aurora and Yorkville, to inside the prison walls.

For the past few years, founder and pastor David Ferguson has made his Community Freedom program, which aims to help the incarcerated reintegrate into society, one of his most important missions.

And as part of that effort, the church will host the “Give Hope Reentry Summit” from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 5 at its Aurora Church, 78 S. LaSalle St. Information and guidance for those affected by the Incarceration will be provided on topics such as free legal services, employment housing, support groups and school district assistance for children.

This free summit will address what inmates have identified as their greatest needs, including assistance with eviction and foreclosure issues, as well as how to apply for in-home energy support.

Lawyer Courtney Kelledes of the Rights and Restoration Law Group will also review appeals for the sealing, expungement and leniency of past records. And Pastor Eric Dorsey, program director, will explore the “school to prison” causes of mass incarceration, as well as information for parents facing homelessness or displacement.

“Our mission is to help people find their way back to God,” said Ferguson, who founded this church in 1989 in Naperville. “Nobody wants to be judged on the worst thing they’ve ever done or we’ll all be in trouble.”

Maybe no one knows that Michael Buhrman, over 42, who after serving two combat missions in Operation Enduring Freedom after 9/11 got involved in drugs and was arrested there. is 11 years old for aggravated carjacking in DuPage County.

Describing himself as “lost and walking in darkness”, Buhrman bonded but fled to Venezeula, where he says he evaded Interpol, the FBI and US marshals for a year. Eventually captured, his accomplice negotiated a plea deal, he told me, which earned him a 40-year sentence that landed him behind bars for the next nine years. This included Shawnee Correctional Center, where he planned to “kill himself” rather than spend so much time behind bars.

But that’s also where Buhrman’s transformation began.

“God kept putting me in cells with Christians. And even though I didn’t want anything to do with them at the time, when I heard the gospel, it was like winning the lottery,” he said.

He not only began reading the Bible, but also studying it, eventually earning a master’s degree in Bible studies and teaching and preaching to other prisoners.

Even though COVID-19 stalled his already lengthy appeals process, Buhrman insisted he never lost faith. Released in July, the eloquent and kind ex-offender is now immersed in ministry to other vulnerable people, including the homeless and the incarcerated, and his testimony has made him a popular speaker, which he considers as one of his “many blessings”. ”

It was while in DuPage prison that Buhrman met Dorsey and began attending services through the church’s Community Liberty Ministry, an idea that came to Ferguson as “an epiphany a few years before the pandemic when he and a worship pastor were working with some of the audio and visual equipment and realized “technology could help us reach so many places” otherwise impossible, including inside prisons and jails.

Currently, services are taking place at the DuPage County Jail and Joliet Treatment Center, and the church also works in partnership with Lifespring and Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora, Dorsey said.

You can look at the numbers to see why focusing so intensely on this demographic is such a smart idea. Statistics indicate that of the 2 million Americans imprisoned, as many as 700,000 will be released each year, with 67% reoffending within three years.

Another sobering set of numbers: Children with a family member incarcerated are 70% more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system, with one in 28 children having a parent incarcerated. And, if that’s not reason enough for churches to get more involved, consider that the prison industry costs the US economy billions of dollars a year.

When people are empowered to overcome obstacles, it makes all of our communities thrive, the two pastors insist. Yet they also recognize the challenges of prison ministries due to the “denial of people who don’t understand the importance of helping ex-offenders from a public safety perspective,” Dorsey noted.

We must “educate the churches that have bought into this false narrative that is now dividing our country…”, he insisted. “We need to push people out of their cultural comfort zones…so they can start to see everyone as our neighbors, especially those who are marginalized.”

It is “not about a political agenda. It’s about valuing people… giving dignity to everyone,” Dorsey continued. “These people are getting out of jail anyway. We need to break down the barriers and give them the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

This is certainly what Michael Buhrman does.

Now working in a body shop in Wheaton, he will get his doctorate in December. And even though he “doesn’t know where the Lord is leading me,” the idea of ​​teaching at the college level is appealing, as is continuing in some ministry capacity.

“I was able to bring a lot of people to Christ,” Buhrman said. “I do not want to be a stumbling block for the Gospel but an example for others.”

Dorsey hopes her church’s first back-to-school summit will also inspire. Those interested in attending can contact him at [email protected] Not only can this event help provide valuable support to those who have been affected by incarceration, but it can also remind others of how important the role of community is in these journeys of return.

“There is a misconception that those in prison are bad people and far from God,” the pastor said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

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