Freedom for the IncarceratedBrook Hills Contributor
The last thing Jeremy Miller wanted to do was leave everything familiar and move to Alabama. He had recently been married and started his own business in construction, and they lived right around the corner from family and friends.
“But God was calling me to full-time ministry,” Jeremy shares, “to make disciples and to impact the incarcerated with the gospel—for the glory of Christ.”
Jeremy first began serving as a volunteer in prison ministry with a family friend when he was 18 years old. For several years, he frequently visited local prisons in his home state of Ohio, bringing baseball and basketball teams into the prisons, playing games with the guys, and holding services afterward.
“It was in that time that I felt God calling me. While serving, one of the chaplains introduced me to a ministry called WeCare Program. I wanted to do something in Ohio, but they told me that the only opportunity they had at the time was in Alabama. I didn’t want to move, so I continued doing construction.”
Jeremy describes how miserable he soon became. “It wasn’t that I hated doing construction, it was simply that I wasn’t following what I knew the Lord had called me to. In fact, people that I appreciated and loved, my wife and my in-laws, were all encouraging me to step out—move to Alabama. But I chose not to.”
Work became more and more unsatisfying. Then Jeremy reached a tipping point. One day in January, WeCare came to Ohio for an annual banquet—hosted less than a mile from Jeremy’s home. Within the week prior, several different people encouraged him to go, including the president of WeCare, who Jeremy knew. His immediate reaction was not to go. But he began to wrestle with why he was so resistant to where he’d felt the Lord leading him for so long.
“I did a lot of thinking during those weeks,” Jeremy continues. “I look back, and I notice that every time I went into prison I actually felt the call of God to do this. That’s one of the reasons I had started fading out of prison ministry as I worked on my business. It had become harder and harder for me to go into prison because I knew that was where God wanted me.”
Jeremy says that God truly got his attention, and he decided to pursue working with WeCare and moving to Alabama.
He spent the next year raising support, and in April 2011, Jeremy and his family moved to Alabama to work at St. Clair Correctional Facility.
“When I first started working in the prison at St Clair, I found there was already a strong group of believers there. So I started with some biblical classes and asked God how He wanted me to best serve in this place.
“God gave me a passion for a church behind bars. Church-planting was not necessarily something I had on my radar when I first came to St. Clair, but the first couple of years I was there, I would stay late one night a week so the group of believers could come together and have church. I began spending a lot of time focusing on discipling and equipping them—mobilizing the believers in the prison so they could serve God with the gifts He’s given them there.
“Prison ministry is important, and we also do several effective and rewarding programs there, but I found that I am not nearly as effective as the guys inside are at reaching the lost inside the prisons.”
Jeremy has observed the way the Lord draws even the hardest hearts to Himself in the most loving and surprising ways. But Jeremy faces many challenges on a daily basis. He works with men whose families have turned their backs on them as well as many who deal with addictions, emotional trauma, relapse, and those who have believed but struggle with the labels they had before choosing to follow Christ.
“Some of the challenges we faced getting started are some of same challenges we face today.” Jeremy explains, “Spiritual warfare is real. The more we try to engage the church in the facility, the more push-back we get. It’s bigger than the administration—it’s spiritual.”
But Jeremy says they work through each challenge by persevering in prayer. “We don’t give up. We’re there the next week, the next day. We meet, we have prayer meetings, but if those meetings are canceled, these guys will pray in the cell blocks. They’ll find ways to pray together.
“God has worked through our story. Now when we look back, we can see why God brought us to Birmingham and St Clair. God has opened up opportunities that we would’ve never had if we had not come to Birmingham. Two years ago, we ordained Pastor Tommy,” Jeremy smiles as he shares. “The church behind bars has a pastor and elders, and now we get to see the incarcerated church making disciples. The church is actually healthy and growing out there, despite all barriers.”
Even the most profoundly lost are finding freedom behind bars in the gospel.
Jeremy Miller and his family came to Birmingham and Brook Hills in 2011. He and his wife, Andrea, have four children, Joshua, Alyssa, Jadon, and Judah. To learn more about the role the Church can play in helping those affected by crime and incarceration, participate in the Unlocking Second Chances workshop. To learn more, visit brookhills.org/secondchances. (This story originally appeared in February 2018.)