More than 20 years ago, the Holy Spirit sent the Welles to jail

In the study in their home, where reams of the necessary, volunteer jail ministry paperwork has been taken care of, Bev and Darrell Welle sit beneath “Jesus,” their inspiration and guidance.

Fort Ripley Township residents Darrell and Bev Welle, 69 and 63, were honored as the Minnesota Sheriffs Association’s Volunteers of the Year, Thursday, Sept. 14, during a ceremony at Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake.

Morrison County Jail Administrator Lieutenant Scott MacKissock wrote in his nomination of the Welles, “Darrell and Bev Welle have been volunteering at the Morrison County Jail for 25-plus years, including in addition many Wednesday evenings for the ‘Your Choice’ program.”

“That program always has at least half of our jail population in attendance, and if someone (inmate) would need to talk, one on one, they have been more than willing to help with that,” McKissock said.

“Along with the Wednesday programs, Darrell and Bev introduced the REC (Residents Encounter Christ) weekend in our jail, and that program has been going on now for 23-plus years. We just completed our 43rd REC weekend,” said McKissock.

“The REC program brings in about 30 volunteers (some who are ex-inmates) for Friday night, Saturday and Sunday,” McKissock said. “We always have at least half our population (inmates) attend the 2 1/2-day, intensive program.

“Thanks to the Welles, we have five ex-inmates, now sober and clean, who currently volunteer for this program,” McKissock said. “Some of these ex-inmates have also started their own programs here, and are also doing an outstanding job.

“The Morrison County Jail is grateful to Darrell and Bev Welle, for their commitment to the community and to the inmates that are housed here,” McKissock said.

Residents Encounter Christ (REC) is a two-day retreat for jail and prison residents that is designed to give them a chance to learn about Christ and how he can change their lives.

For their devoted efforts helping jail and prison inmates find hope with Jesus Christ, Darrell and Bev Welle were named the Minnesota Sheriffs Association 2017 Volunteers of the Year recently. They quickly said, “This award is really for all the volunteers who have helped the inmates learn about Jesus.” Pictured at the recent award ceremony, are long-time jail ministry volunteers (from left): Bob and MaryAnn Backowski, Darrell and Bev Welle and Jeff and Peg Winkelman.

“Darrell and Bev have made a positive impact with our staff and inmates through the Residents Encountering Christ program that is offered twice a year at our jail.” said Morrison County Sheriff Shawn Larsen. “Darrell and Bev are devoted Christians who dedicate their time and resources to helping out inmates that participate in the REC program.

“I’m also impressed by the Welles’ work ethic,” the sheriff said. “They follow up with inmates after the REC programs in attempts to maintain positive relations and assistance as needed.”

Bev  summed up the work of the weekend REC and Wednesday evening volunteers’ work.

“We’re there to serve Jesus, and give them hope, and are so grateful for the cooperation, help and encouragement we get from Sheriff Larsen, Jail Administrator McKissock and from all their great staff,” she said.

After receiving the Volunteer of Year award, Bev said, “There are so many devoted volunteers who have contributed so much to the jail ministries. We would not have received this award without them. It really is an honor for all of us.”

Before the award ceremony, Bev said, “There is a whole segment of society, multi-generational, that have not had examples of commitments to Christ, to a church, a marriage, a job.” She first went to into a jail, 23 years ago, initially the Stearns County Jail, to do something about that.

She told her husband, Darrell, that he should go to jail too.

“No way I’m driving 30 miles to go to jail,” Darrell recently said with a grin. “I’m not going to jail unless it’s in Little Falls.”

He does have strong ties to Morrison County, although not necessarily its jail, that is until he and Bev helped introduce the REC program there in 1996.

Darrell grew up on a dairy farm in the Freedhem area, and went to high school in Pierz. The Welles now live just a quarter-mile from Bev’s Fort Ripley Township childhood (Doucette) home. They were both baptized in the Holy Family Church in Belle Prairie. They were married there in 1973, after Darrell returned from three years of military service.

Darrell’s reluctance to get involved in REC  started to change on Father’s Day, 1991.

“My daughter, Victoria, gave me an application for a TEC retreat, and even a $10 bill for the deposit, as a Father’s Day present,” Darrell said.

“I moved away from the church when I went in the service (Army),” Darrell recalled. “It wasn’t until shortly after that first TEC retreat that I found a relationship with Jesus.”

Together Encountering Christ (TEC) is a weekend overnight retreat based on the Paschal Mystery — the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Central Minnesota’s TEC Center for such retreats is located on the north edge of Little Falls, in the former Belle Prairie school, by the Holy Family Catholic Church.

People who want to help in the jails with the REC program, first go to one of several different weekend Paschal Mystery retreats, although many attending are there for other reasons and not intending to go into the REC ministry. Some people help with the jail ministries by donating money or supplies instead of their time.

On the cmtec.org website, it states: “For most TEC participants, words can not describe the weekend, the feeling, nor the encounter with Christ.”

“Participating in a TEC was instrumental in our openness to where Jesus was calling us to serve,” Bev said. “It opened our hearts to knowing where.”

“It changed our lives,” Darrell said. “It also brought us even closer together.”

The TEC prepared them for a REC.

Believing they were called to serve there, the Welles went to the Morrison County Jail’s first REC retreat, in August 1996, with a team of 30 similarly inspired volunteers.

The Welles were that first Morrison County REC’s coordinators, and have been the Morrison County Jail REC coordinators ever since, 21 years, including the most recent retreat in July.

Retreats at the jail are done twice a year, July and January.

About the Welles’ long-time jail ministry, volunteer Bob Backowski said, “They have a heart for the incarcerated. I think it’s because when they see people whose lives are way down at the bottom, Darrell and Bev know that they can bring Jesus Christ to them to show them another way.”

Backowski said an inmate told him, “With no hope, consequences don’t matter.”

“It’s a difficult job, bringing 30 people (REC team) together, making sure all the bases are covered,” said Backowski. “There have been 43 RECs in the Morrison County Jail, over the years, and Bev and Darrell did (coordinated) them all.”

“I love working with them. They are the most patient, loving, kind people — everyone else comes before them,” Backowski said.

“The reason I do this, is because the inmates are somebody’s son, daughter, dad or mother,” Backowski said.

He doesn’t go into the jails to preach.

“Start preaching to those guys,” he said, “and they’ll turn you off like a bad song on the radio.”

“We also do a Wednesday group at the jail, ever since 1996, when usually four of us go in for a Bible study. Usually 10 to 15 inmates attend. I’m kind of in charge of that. Bev usually comes too. She is the contact person with the jail staff, particularly knows the rules, and she leads the group if I’m not there,” Backowski said.

Darrell doesn’t usually help with the Wednesday night get-togethers with the inmates. He’s also busy as a volunteer caretaker for the TEC Center, along with his brother, Duane, who has also been active with REC.

Bev said, “When we do a REC, we bring in a team of 30 volunteers, Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday until about 8:30 p.m., and the team sleeps at the TEC Center, and starts praying and having Mass, Friday evening, to prepare for Saturday and Sunday in the jail.”

“The program kind of builds each day,” Bev said, “It’s the Paschal Mystery — it kind of all flows, the inmates wouldn’t understand what’s happening if not there throughout, so they’re told they can’t return to their cell block then come back during each day’s REC.”

“They voluntarily come,” Darrell said. “Then we ask them if they want to stay until 8 that night. Then they go back to their cells, and the team goes back to the TEC Center for the night. We are fortunate to have that facility (former boarding school) with bedrooms and a kitchen.”

TEC is international, after starting in Michigan in 1965. TEC in Belle Prairie started in 1978.

“There are 10 TEC weekends here per year,” Bev said, “They are averaging 40 to 45 new TEC candidates each retreat, with 100 at a TEC weekend earlier this year.”

REC sprang from TEC, with the initial, Central Minnesota retreat being held in what was the Sauk Centre Juvenile Detention Center where Bev was involved in her first REC in 1994. REC retreats are now provided to inmates in seven county jails and two prisons in Minnesota as well as in a number of other states. Both are non-profit, Catholic-sponsored and funded programs.

To learn more about TEC or REC or to apply to be a volunteer, visit the websites, www.cmtec.org or www.cm-rec.org, or contact Darrell or Bev Welle at (320) 745-2582.

REC team positions are open to people, age 21 or older, who have participated in TEC, Koininia or Cursillo retreats. Individuals who participated in REC while incarcerated are also invited to apply.

REC team members last names, phones, etc. are not revealed during the encounters with inmates.

“Confidentiality is a huge concern,” Darrell said. “For team members as well as for the inmates.”

Inmates, participating in RECs, according to a CM-REC publication, have said, “Thank you for the best weekend of my life;” and “REC changed my outlook on myself and God; it made me understand that God is and will always be there with and for me.”