Mary E. Klassen
Don Klassen, recipient of the 2012 AMBS Alumni Ministry and Service Award, received the certificate honoring him from AMBS president Sara Wenger Shenk on Tuesday, Sept. 25. He had opportunities at a morning break and in chapel to share vignettes of his study at AMBS 40 years ago and of 32 years of ministry in the South Dakota State Penitentiary.
Don also presented a gift to AMBS–from the sound board of a water-damaged piano, he crafted the message “Jesus is Lord,” reminiscent of the same words that were above the chancel area in the Goshen Biblical Seminary chapel when GBS was still on the Goshen College campus.
The ministry to which Klassen devoted almost half of his life was matching inmates of the South Dakota State Penitentiary with friends on the outside. For more than 32 years he coordinated the M-2 (man-to-man) program, a part-time role that was sponsored by different inter-church organizations.
Klassen began in the coordinator role in 1978, but he reports that since 1972 when the program began, more than 4,000 matches have been established. The program has received state and national recognition and has resulted in an annual recidivism rate of less than one percent annually. Since 2005, Klassen has been adapting the concept to include county jails, and thus also to include women and youth.
“In prison, I have seen God in the forgiving, healing and blessing business. God is also in the rescuing business and the salvage business,” Don said.
Don explained, “Years ago the pastor at my home church in Kansas said, ‘We either build community or we break down community.’ Inmates were sent to prison because they allegedly broke down community. My job was to rebuild community. Jesus led me where I would not have chosen to go: past gun towers and razor wire, through stone walls and steel bars to look for volunteers who would come to befriend inmates. Because prison codes nationwide forbid staff to “fraternize” with inmates, I was asking M-2 sponsors to do something that staff cannot do.”
Each year, AMBS gives the Alumni Ministry and Service Award to someone whose ministry has been marked by distinguished accomplishment and those who have served their Lord faithfully and effectively over the years
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