Justin Thacker: Rumford pastor ministers to Oxford County inmates

Justin Thacker: Rumford pastor ministers to Oxford County inmates

Pastor Justin Thacker stands at the Praise Assembly of God Church in downtown Rumford on December 15. He also serves inmates at Oxford County Jail in Paris. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

SOUTH PARIS — Justin Thacker says he’s in the business of changing lives.

The service he offers doesn’t cost his clients a dime, just an investment of time, trust and determination.

Thacker is pastor of Praise Assembly of God Church in Rumford.

For many inmates at the Oxford County Jail in Paris, he is the link to salvation and a chance at a better life.

Thacker and four members of his church congregation, who were once incarcerated in prison, meet with inmates for 90 minutes each week for Bible study and hymn singing, but mostly listening.

The four parishioners accompanying him are vital to Thacker’s efforts, he said.

“They bear their testimonies,” he said. “They add so much insight because they’ve worn the orange before. You passed. They lived there and so we’re trying to bring a message of salvation and that people can change.”

“We help them through what they’re going through and sometimes help them get back into the community after they get out of prison,” Thacker said in a recent interview.

The inmates are mostly men, but inmates from a women’s cell block sometimes meet with them separately.

Thacker is primarily trying to establish a connection. That could include praying with inmates, mentoring them, giving them vent, or just helping answer questions that plague them, he said.

“Where is God in my situation?” you might ask. Or, “How did God allow this to happen to me?”

His services are well received.

A year ago, before the prison was reduced to a 72-hour detention facility, he was able to fill a room in the prison with nearly 50 inmates.

Returned to a full-time facility in January, but due to the pandemic, prison protocols have limited that number to eight at a time. Over the past month, scheduling conflicts at the prison have temporarily halted his visits.

Thacker’s service doesn’t end at the cell door.

“I have a couple of the guys I’m mentoring now who have been released. We’ve helped some of them get into full-time rehab centers,” he said.

He recently accompanied a former inmate to court in Rumford who is looking to visit his child and is “trying to get back on track,” he said.

Sometimes ex-prisoners use the church as a place for supervised visits with children and designate Thacker as a supervisor, he said.

Thacker said he’s seeing changes in the inmates he meets with and also in the wardens at the prison.

“When someone writes a thank you note or thanks us for not giving up on them or spending time with them when they may have made a terrible mistake, that’s how we know we’re productive and that’s what that is Lord would want us to do that,” he said.

“It’s what motivates me to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said.

His ministry has been “very difficult in the midst of COVID-19, with mental health issues or increased domestic problems or 30% higher addiction,” he said.

“I lost three to suicide,” he said.

“But what motivates me is seeing how people’s lives are changing. That’s the business I’m in,” Thacker said.

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