Many of you reading this article will remember Jeff Baker, General Manager of TCT (Total Christian Television) when the station was operating in Nashville. I met Jeff while serving as President of the Tennessee Christian Chamber of Commerce. TCT was a member. .
Now serving as a Chaplain with the Illinois State Prison System, Jeff agreed to be my guest this month. I asked him to tell about God’s call on his life; resulting in Jeff going almost full-circle.
Jeff explains, “You never know where ministry will take a person. My wife, Chris and I began full time ministry serving a small church in West Central Illinois in 1988 when fresh out of Bible College. Since then I served as pastor of three churches over a span of 22 years. We were serving in my home town of Marion, IL when I got the opportunity with TCT Television Network. We moved to Raleigh, NC and I became the station General Manager of WRAY-TV in 2010. The ministry there was awesome and the TV station began growing.
“In 2016 we had the opportunity to move to Nashville to start WJFB-TV for the TCT Television Network. Nashville was a little more of a challenge to get a Christian television station started since there were already well established Christian networks in town. It was more difficult to stand out among giants like TBN and CTN who were doing a great job. However, both managers at those TV stations were helpful and supportive.
“Then the FCC mandated TV stations that were on channels 30 and above to sell their channel space and repack with other stations at a lower channel on the spectrum. WJFB was located on channel 66 and was mandated to repack at a lower channel. With the rising costs of doing business and with ministries having to live with smaller donations, it became clear that TCT would have to leave the Nashville market.
“The Lord always provides, and sometimes in ways in which we least expect. In the following months I was offered a position as a chaplain with the Illinois Department of Corrections at a maximum security prison with some of the state’s most violent offenders. I know that your first reaction would be that this would be a horrible assignment. How could anybody enjoy working in such a dark place? You know, many times God stretches us while we find His great grace at work. As I settled into the job I found that ministering to men, most of whom are doing life sentences for violent offenses would be rewarding. But not only was I ministering to the incarcerated but also to the staff who also needed encouraging and spiritual guidance.
“When the COVID crisis began it had a big impact on correctional facilities where inmates lived in such close contact with each other, many times two sharing a tiny cell. Immediately, correctional facilities cut off visitations and all volunteers were shut out to protect the incarcerated. The institution where I work was very proactive and minimized the spread of the virus early.
“However, one of the casualties of the pandemic was the canceling of all chapel services and men were confined to their cells 24/7 with the exception of a shower once or twice per week. I learned quickly one of the reasons God placed me at the prison. Since the inmates could not come to chapel we needed to take chapel to them. I was able to get approval both from the state and our institution to start a television channel for the inmates. With the help of some donated equipment from TCT I was able to launch the Chapel Channel with 24/7 religious programming. It has been a tremendous blessing for the inmates. I have often heard complimentary remarks from them while I make my rounds through the cell houses ministering to the men face to face on a daily basis.
“Now with me having a good paying, full time job with benefits…another avenue of ministry became open as well. Recently, I was able to become the pastor of a church that isn’t strong enough to support a full time pastor. The church was about to close its doors because the membership had diminished. Death seemed to be at the door for the congregation. But, God has shown His faithfulness again by blessing the ministry of the church. The church is now growing numerically with new salvations and new people coming to worship. The finances are growing and there is new life and excitement in the church.
“Although I would have never planned my life and ministry in this way, I see the hand of God at work. As I look through the “rearview mirror” I can see how God has directed us on some incredible adventures.”
By: Ralph E. Vaughn