The Work of a Prison Chaplain

Abraham Yonas, an ordained minister with the Free Methodist Church in Canada, has been a chaplain at Beavercreek Institution in Gravenhurst, ON for fourteen years. Beaver Creek Institution is a minimum and medium security federal prison operated by the Correctional Service of Canada. Abraham works in the medium security prison where there are approximately 500 inmates. 

Abraham grew up in Ethiopia and moved to Canada in the mid-1990s. “I went to school and my education qualified me to be a chaplain in a hospital setting. I did work in a hospital for a couple of years, but I realized that prison ministry would be a better setting for me.” In Ethiopia, Abraham had some family members and close friends who were in prison, so he had some understanding of prison life. “I was becoming more and more interested in prison ministry and feeling more in my heart from the spirit that this was the right call for me.”

There are several chaplains available to the inmates at Beavercreek including a Catholic chaplain, traditional religion chaplains (Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Rastafarian), and a Protestant chaplain. “I am the Protestant chaplain here. The chapel is open for any inmate to come and have contact with us. We are not a high security facility. Inmates have access to the chaplain anytime they want and for how long they want.” Abraham meets inmates on a daily basis, leads bible study programs, and organizes Sunday services. “I think about a third of the inmates are interested in the chapel life and seek spiritual advice. There are a significant number of Christians and Muslims in that one third. Not everyone is interested but there are times when inmates become convicted in their heart and the only place to seek refuge and comfort is the chapel.”

Beavercreek services take place on Sunday evening as Abraham and his family worship on Sunday mornings at New Hope FMC in Bracebridge, ON. “The inmates participate in all aspects of the service. We have a small choir and worship band, and some of the inmates read scripture.” Abraham spends the majority of his time meeting inmates one-on-one for conversation, discussion, spiritual questions, and prayer. “We hear their stories and listen to them. We give them spiritual advice and accompany them on their faith journey. That’s a typical day.”

Much like the rest of the world, COVID-19 changed everything at Beavercreek. The prison was locked down in mid-March and Abraham started working from home. “We communicated over the phone and through our supervisor just to pass information to the inmates as we weren’t able to speak with them directly.” Abraham returned to Beavercreek in July, but things look very different. “Inmates must now make an appointment to see one of the chaplains, we are limited to five people in a bible study, and we are not able to gather for Sunday service yet.

Even with the current restrictions in place, Abraham loves being a chaplain. “I love people, and it is a privilege to share the struggles and life of people who are vulnerable. Over the years, I’ve learned the nature of humanity. The other side of human nature and how change can be transformative through the power of the gospel message.” Abraham believes that reflective listening is an important skill as a chaplain. “50-60% of our work is simply paying attention to what people say to you. You don’t need to give them a solution to their problem, but simply pay attention to what they are saying and sympathize with them. That often solves a good chunk of the problem.

If you would like to pray for Abraham, he asks for courage and encouragement. 

By Alison McKinnon

Communication Content Developer