Prison set me free

12 Jul 2022

Photo: Chris Jenkins is pastor at Murwillumbah Church of Christ and a local chaplain in the Tweed Shire.

By Emily Ferguson

“I went to prison, and that for me was the best moment of my life.”

When Chris Jenkins – Pastor at Murwillumbah Church of Christ in northern New South Wales – told me that, I knew what I was about to hear would sparkle with the beauty of the redemptive heart of God.

“I was married for 23 years, and unfortunately, that dissolved; it was really tragic for both of us. I had my qualifications in ministry and began my ministry in a little town called Esperance in Western Australia, and I thought my ministry days were finished. I got involved with people who weren’t so law-abiding, made some bad choices, and that got me into a lot of trouble,” Chris recounts.

“The first night in prison, I laid on my bed, which was a concrete slab with a blanket, and I said, ‘Thank you, Lord – it’s finally come to an end.’ Until then, I felt like I was just rebelling against God, so when it all came to an end, it was the greatest moment of my life. It was, for me, a fresh start.

“I said, ‘OK Lord, let’s start again if that’s what you want to do. And He did.’”

After spending a few years teaching music to Indigenous children in the Kimberley in Western Australia, Chris returned home to the property he had purchased in Uki near Murwillumbah over 20 years ago.

“I kind of just pottered around for a couple of years on my property and did my own thing,” Chris said. “Then, just before COVID started, I stood at the front of my property under this big tree, put my hands in the air and said, ‘Lord, use me.’ I felt him calling me back to ministry.”

Not long afterwards, Chris decided he needed to find a church to be part of and learned there was a Church of Christ in Murwillumbah. Having been saved in a Church of Christ in Norseman, Western Australia, Chris decided to visit.

“I rock up the next morning on my Harley,” he tells me, “and I walk into the church wearing my leathers; I really enjoyed it.

“They’re all in their 70s, 80s and 90s and were a bit like, ‘Who’s this guy?’ But eventually, after they started to hear my story, ask some questions, have me preach and learn I had the experience doing what a pastor does, they asked if I’d be interested in the pastor’s position.

“Afterwards, I found out they had been praying for a fellow to literally walk in off the streets who was fully qualified with years of experience. My story is no secret from them or from Fresh Hope, who came down and sussed me out. I had an interview with them and had to tick all the right boxes.

“So, I’ve been a minister for the Murwillumbah Church of Christ for two years now, and I couldn’t wish for a better crew to be working under.”

Alongside his work at the church, Chris is a volunteer firefighter with the Rural Fire Service in Uki, a Chaplain for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, and a Chaplain for the Tweed Shire Council.

“This is as good as it gets, I reckon,” Chris reflects. “Boots on the ground. You’re not just standing behind a pulpit, but you’re out there in the community rubbing shoulders, getting dirty, meeting real people.

“The oldies love it. If I’ve been out to something and come back, I’ve got a whole bunch of stories that I can tie into the messages at church – they’re real life, and they’re relevant, and they’re up to date, not something that happened 50 years ago or an illustration out of a book.

“For me, I reckon sometimes you’ve got to lose everything. I think that’s what makes a good preacher or a good minister – someone who has lost everything, and it makes me a lot smarter on the streets when I’m working with people.

“God loves using broken people to help broken people. I’m so appreciative of God’s word and of His promises.”

Mark 2:17 NKJV

When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Read more stories of Fresh Hope HERE.