Pastor finds his calling behind bars

Juneau color

Posted: Friday, July 07, 2000

On his way to work each morning, Mick Ewing passes through numerous levels of security -- five gates, a metal detector. Only when Ewing has cleared them all can he proceed to the small chapel and office where he does much of his work as part-time chaplain of the Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

``There's a unique situation that happens in prison,'' he said. ``On the outside, when you're trying to share the truth of God's love, you find that peoples' lives are encumbered. When they're in here, it's like they don't have all those distractions.''

Ellen Campbell, a friend of Ewing who has been involved with the prison ministry for much of her life, thinks Ewing is the right man for the job.

``We all hoped that Mick would be interested (in the position),'' she said. ``I'm very grateful that he is and feel immeasurably grateful to have him there.''

Gary Kidd, assistant superintendent at the prison, agreed.

``He appears to have a very good rapport with inmates and with the staff,'' Kidd said. ``Sometimes the seed that he plants may not grow right now, but I think there is definitely a benefit to his being here.''

Ewing wasn't always passionate about a career in religion.

``I'd done a lot of crazy things,'' he said. ``I was really messed up by the time I became a Christian and God healed my mind. That's the change I felt in my life. ... The proof of the pudding is when I see that change take place in other peoples' lives.''

Born to a military family in Seattle, Ewing spent his childhood bouncing from city to city. He came to Anchorage in 1959; when he was in high school, his father was sent to Fairbanks.

In 1970, Ewing and a friend decided to come to Juneau on a whim. To earn the money for the trip, they ``sold my friend's mom's encyclopedias on a radio talk show,'' Ewing recalled. The trip impressed Ewing and a year later, he returned to Juneau to attend community college.

``I got stuck here,'' Ewing said with a laugh.

Eventually, he settled down and bought a fishing boat.

``On that fishing boat, I became a Christian,'' Ewing said.

His sister had sent him a Bible, and he was reading it while at sea.

``At some point, I said `God, if you're real, you've got to prove it to me,''' Ewing said.

God did.

``It was real obvious something took place on that boat,'' Ewing added. ``It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.''

Ewing realized his calling lay in religious work and he returned to Fairbanks, where he became involved with a street ministry and met Sherri, his future wife. They married in 1976 and returned to Juneau to found a street mission of their own, the Lighthouse Coffeehouse.

For the next 15 years, they watched their mission expand to a community center, while Ewing's small Bible study group became a full-fledged church, the Calvary Fellowship.

As the church grew, so did the Ewing family. Ewing and Sherri had three children -- twin sons, Dan and Tim, now 22, and daughter Hannah, now 19.

In 1992, the Fellowship began sharing space with the Auke Bay Bible Church. Ewing retired as pastor and began a new project, the Backdoor Ministry, which worked with the Fellowship to support existing churches and help promote new fellowships in Russia. He and his family moved to Russia and lived there for two years; then, in late 1997, they returned to Juneau.

Ewing began work in the chaplain program, which is privately funded by local churches, eight months ago. At first, he couldn't see the appeal of the job.

``Why would you want to stay all day in a prison?'' Ewing asked rhetorically.

Campbell, who helped convince Ewing to change his mind, understood his reaction. She'd felt the same way when her husband Charles, a former federal prison superintendent, entered the prison ministry.

``When he went into this, I said `Why do you want to do this?''' Ellen Campbell said. ``And he said, `Everybody needs help, and people in prison need help too.'''

Such reasoning rings true to Ewing.

``The point for me is that prison, even though it can have a lot of negatives, there are benefits,'' he said. ``(The prisoners) are in a situation where they have to deal with what's really important. ... I can touch them at their most open time. It's almost like a perfect scenario.''

There are downsides. Some prisoners pretend to find God in an effort to beat the system or impress the parole board.

``There's a lot of it. Let's face it,'' Ewing said. ``But I don't let that bother me. Anybody can do anything for a little while. If someone really is sincere about their faith in God, it's obvious. Everything about them is radically changed because God's done something in his life.''

Similarly, Ewing tries to remain unaffected by prison mind games. He won't take personal gifts -- the only exception is drawings, which he hangs in the chapel or his office for all to see.

``There's a lot of games prisoners play,'' Ewing said. ``I make it a policy not to do anything special. If I'm doing something, I'm doing it the same for everyone.''

To relax, Ewing enjoys traveling, riding motorcycles and music.

``I play guitar,'' Ewing said with a laugh. ``I play harmonica. But I tell people I only did it to prove that anybody can.''

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