Chapel in the "Wildwood"

Willard and Kathy Loewen got started on death row, and have been there for two hours every Tuesday, for 12 years. Prisoners on death row actually call it home. Some are considered so dangerous, they must be handcuffed. The Loewens must pass reading material to them through a hole in a "cage." Literally, they may have no outside connection.

Every Sabbath, the Loewens visit lesser-sentenced prisoners in the Oregon State Penitentiary, in rooms which look similar to "fellowship halls." The Loewens are quick to point out it's not a church setting — it's a circle setting. Imagine folding chairs, a few approved booklets, song books, Bibles and sometimes a piano.

"We begin by asking if there are concerns for the week," says Willard. Inmates are usually concerned with: officer changes, census morale, sentencing and work assignments. "We sing and then ask if there are Bible questions," say the Loewens. "If we are able to, we take in a laptop computer and play a Doug Batchelor DVD. (Batchelor is a favorite among inmates.)

"We rarely talk about judgment. We can only give them hope," continues Willard. "We can't give them money or less time — only hope. However their attitudes usually inspire US. We see the Holy Spirit helping them with many issues."

The Loewens gather prayer requests and each are prayed for urgently. There has been one baptism on death row and many life changes.

"We are like missionaries to a different country with a different mindset and different customs," says Willard.

Occasionally an inmate serves their time and runs into Willard on the outside. They introduce themselves as a former member of the group. "The other day I ran into a man, now running his own company who was very changed by the group ...," says Willard. "The man still keeps the Sabbath.

"When they look back on their prison experience I want them to think ‘those Adventists loved me,'" says Willard.

December 01, 2009 / Feature