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Pandemic pushes Matthew 25 Director out

Janet and Rev. Michael Brooks at Matthew 25 dedication, April 2019. (Deuce Niven, TLT)


     A “perfect storm” with pandemic gusts is blowing Matthew 25 Director Rev. Michael Brooks from Tabor City.

     Rev. Brooks and his wife Janet are leaving in about a month, their mission sidelined by the coronavirus COVID-19 and its global impact.

     Rev. Brooks has been the director, he and Janet caretakers at the center just west of Tabor City since it opened nearly a year ago, capping a decade-long effort to establish a sanctuary for family members who travel far to visit inmates at Tabor Correctional Institution and other area prisons and jails.

     COVID-19 has sidelined the Brooks’ primary missions, serving those families, and raising funds to support the ministry. Prisons almost everywhere are closed to visitors, an effort to keep COVID-19 out.

     “The prisons are closed, and we don’t know when they will reopen,” Rev. Brooks said. “And all fund raising events are off.”

     Riding out the storm, with no mission and no income, has become even less attractive because of a family crisis.

     “Mom’s got cancer,” Rev. Brooks said. “So we’re going to Atlanta to be with her.

     Brooks last day at Matthew 25 is set for May 15.

A mission accomplished

     Disappointed, and “sad to be leaving,” Rev. Brooks said the ministry in Tabor City has been “fantastic,” the fund raising difficult.

     Its vision of serving jails and prisons in a broader region has largely been unmet, with nearly every visitor to Matthew 25 meeting with loved ones at Tabor Correctional Institution, just down Swampfox Hwy West, and Columbus Correctional Institution near Brunswick.

     “We’ve had visitors from ten states,” Rev. Brooks said. “From Arizona, Texas, New Jersey, New York. On the ministry end, it’s been fantastic.”

     Unexpected cards for Christmas, one this week for Easter, have come from those grateful for the place to lay their head after making sometimes difficult trips just to spend a short time with their incarcerated loved ones.

     “Whole families lives have been changed from staying here,” Rev. Brooks said. “There was a family here, they had not told anyone at home that they had a loved one incarcerated. After spending two nights here, they felt convicted about sharing because God can use that.”

     When they returned home, the family put up a Facebook post sharing their experience.

     “Then they told their church, and a whole new ministry was berthed from that,” Rev. Brooks said. “Everybody was keeping a secret, so many had a loved one who was in, or had been in prison. They were able to share and support one another.”

     Guests were treated like family by the Brooks, and some clearly found family in the caretakers.

     “One family, it was some time after they were here, they were in a terrible accident, the daughter was injured, the husband died,” Rev. Brooks said. “The first person she thought to call was us. A month after just one night here.

     “We really build close relationships quickly. When they are nervous, they are hurting, it’s family time here.”

     Matthew 25, Rev. Brooks said, is “a good ministry, they just have to figure out how to keep it going.”

     Look for much more of this week’s news in today’s Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.