By Josette Keelor - firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW MARKET -- After learning of the Rock of Ages mission and spending a week in Cleveland, Tenn., helping the cause, Josette and Paul Miller found a cause of their own: Guiding troubled youth along a more spiritual path to enlightenment, happiness and freedom.
Certain of the ramifications that can come from beginning a life of crime as a juvenile, the New Market couple hope that their plan will help children and teens already headed toward juvenile detention, or worse, prison, to rethink the course their lives have taken and instead allow God to guide them to safety.
The couple had not always planned to work with troubled youth. Miller, a garage door technician at Overhead Door in Winchester, and his wife, a cafeteria employee at Strasburg High School, were led to this recent conclusion through their church, the Woods Chapel Independent Bible Church in New Market.
Upon hearing about Rock of Ages from visiting missionaries, the Millers were interested in learning more.
"Our church had heard there was a dire need for church in the prisons," said Mrs. Miller. "Paul and I felt that we really wanted to get involved."
Those they met through Rock of Ages told them that prisoners have a greater chance of not offending again if they have a knowledge of and a belief in the Bible. Some former inmates have pursued spiritual careers, such as becoming missionaries.
The idea is that with the knowledge and understanding of Bible teachings, inmates might choose to lead a more productive life absent of crime after they are released.
"They're [Rock of Ages] a missionary outfit that's into saving souls," Miller said.
Rock of Ages has 21,574 students worldwide in five countries, including 249 in Virginia, the Millers said.
The program does not get prison sentences reduced nor promise a release for those sentenced to death or life in prison; instead it offers a more spiritual freedom, Mrs. Miller said.
After returning from Tennessee the couple asked around at local schools and prisons for a similar program in the area geared toward youths. As far as they know, no program like this exists in or around Shenandoah County, so they decided to start one.
The Millers, who also teach children's church at Woods Chapel, hope to begin a first-offender's program at a church in Woodstock or Edinburg, to be most convenient to people across Shenandoah County. Specifically they expect to hold classes in a Baptist or other church that uses the King James Bible.
"Everything's King James," Miller said of Rock of Ages' missions.
"We just feel like we're needed with juveniles," Mrs. Miller said. "There is a need, there really is. ... Once they become adults, we want to keep them out of prison."
A scenario she envisions would allow first offenders to participate in the Rock of Ages program one night a week for 15 weeks in place of completing community service.
Her most fervent wish, though, is that children never reach that point of facing down a prison sentence. With God and family, "they have a chance to start their life out right," she said.
A lot of work will go into forming the Shenandoah County classes, they said, with the help of Rock of Ages.
"What we have to do is go through a 12-hour class," Miller said.
"It's something that we are really working on and would love to expand," he said of the first-offender's program. They plan to begin in Shenandoah and then move into Rockingham and Page counties.
"We want to reach the children," Miller said. So many times, he said, young people make a mistake and end up in jail; soon a cycle of crime begins and they don't know how to escape.
"A class like this might've helped," he said.
While in Tennessee, Miller helped with the production of Rock of Ages publications that are shipped to prisons around the world, and Mrs. Miller helped grade tests that inmates mailed in to The Prisoners' Bible Institute to show their progress throughout the program.
Rock of Ages divides the Bible into separate paperback books, they said, so that inmates can study one book at a time and test on what they learn.
A score of 70 percent or more earns them a certificate of completion for each book, they said. The program even continues if and when they are released from prison. Upon completion of the program, each participant receives a leather-bound King James Bible, they said.
During the mission trip Mrs. Miller also read letters from inmates detailing their interest in the program.
The experience was especially meaningful for the Millers because their church had been donating money to Rock of Ages, and they were able to see that money at work printing the class materials and books, they said.
"It's just neat to get an opportunity to see something like that," said Miller.
"Seventy-five dollars will support an inmate for a year," said Mrs. Miller.
"There [are] several other outfits [around the country]," she said. "There's several, but none are as elaborate, as far along as Rock of Ages is." Different programs are available, depending on individual state laws concerning how missionaries are allowed to participate at prisons, she said. The programs range from spending a day in a prison to offering four-day camps.
"It's sort of like a revival," said Miller. "They [the missionaries] try to reach everyone that's willing. ... Everything's free, and people like free stuff."
As they learn more about Rock of Ages, the Millers would like to participate in the prison ministries as well. Miller would like to do a four-day prison camp someday, and his wife would like to visit a women's prison.
The Millers can be contacted at 740-2747.