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Bibb County chaplain focuses on helping people ‘just one at a time’

In a small recreation room at the Bibb County jail, female inmates sauntered inside, and the Rev. J. Jada Sims greeted them with a warm smile.

They huddled around her, forming a semicircle.

Taking out her worn Bible, Sims read them the first two verses of Psalms 107.

As the reading ended, she and the inmates joined hands and bowed their heads in prayer.

When the inmates were readying to go back to their cells, Sims reassured them.

“I tell myself in the mirror every day, ‘Hey you, you have work to do,’ ’’ she said.

With her wit inducing laughter and soulful prayers, Sims carries around a spiritual halo.

She works as a chaplain and religious coordinator for the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, fulfilling what she calls her God-given calling of helping people.

“I felt the calling to reach out and help somebody as I pass along,” Sims said. “A way that I know that my living wouldn’t be in vain.”

She is the only female chaplain who serves alongside nine male chaplains.

When the Macon native returned from location-hopping with her now-retired military husband and three children, Sims thought she might work as a female chaplain for a few days.

She has been counseling female inmates and police officials for close to 25 years.

“(I) just wanted to make this city better, and I felt that’s what the Lord wanted me to do,” she said.

Her family re-settled in Macon in the early ‘90s at a time when she thought the crime was high.

“And I said, ‘if I can help in any way, then I will do that,’” she said.

So she decided to hold a prayer vigil. That’s where she met former Sheriff Robbie Johnson, passing out papers to advertise the event.

Johnson invited her to start ministering to female inmates, and she has been a chaplain serving everyone in Bibb County’s law enforcement ever since.

She said she often feels like the community’s chaplain.

SERVANT FOR GOD

For a while, Sims tried to ignore God’s tugging on her heart to become a pastor, but she said she couldn’t and finally accepted it.

In 1987, she distinctly remembers feeling a religious calling to become a preacher of the Gospels. That same year she became a pastor at Union United Methodist Church in Maryland. Before then, she had assisted military chaplains on her husband’s tour in Germany.

“I just feel like I’m a servant for God, and I’ve been predestined to do this,” Sims said.

She first learned of her love of people at her earliest job experience, when she worked with her grandfather at a Macon tailor and alteration shop downtown.

“My grandfather taught me how to be professional,” she said. “He taught me how to be a businessperson.”

After attending Argosy University and meeting her husband, Sims began moving around a lot.

The couple lived in Texas, West Germany and Maryland for a little while before finding their way back to Macon.

Now the grandmother of six, who declines sharing her age, Sims is still a hard worker, Sheriff David Davis said.

She counsels, trains and coordinates all religious activities at the jail.

She made a roster for visiting churches and said she tries to have all denominations represented.

“We have churches coming in from Sunday to Sunday,” she said. “Sometimes the inmates don’t trust you, but however, don’t go in judgmental,” she said she tells them. “Respect who they are. Give them a chance.”

MOTHER TERESA

When Sims started preaching to inmates, she said she would get nervous, but not anymore.

Many of the women have been in and out of jail for 20 years, she said.

“I try to be a friend here,” she said.

About 15 years ago, when she was younger and rules were more flexible, Sims said she would drive to the jail early in the morning.

“I would wake up, and it was like the Holy Spirit said go and see them,” she said. And sure enough, there would be a female inmate crying in her cell.

Special moments for Sims are when she sees former inmates after they get out and have a home, a job and a car.

Because they look different with makeup on, she said she can only tell who they are when they say, “Hi, chaplain.”

Often inmates will not go to church outside of incarceration, but they will attend church services while they’re here, she said.

That’s why Sims offers words of encouragement whenever she can.

“I encourage everybody to speak positive to the inmates ... because the word of God is life-changing,” she said.

When asked, she will gladly share her favorite sermon to preach -- John 15:1-11, the first one she said she spoke behind a pulpit.

“You have to do (his work) with all your might and enjoy it,” she said. “‘Cause it’s enjoyable when you do it like he asks you.”

And Sims believes that everybody can help one another.

“Mother Teresa said don’t worry about the masses, just one at a time,” she said. “And I really live by that.”

During summers, Sims doesn’t visit the jail as much because she hosts a free summer camp for children unable to pay to attend any other summertime activities.

The camp is held every weekday from the beginning of June until July 17 at Shekinah Glory Family Praise Center International in Warner Robins. She and a group of volunteers have put on the camp since the mid-1990s, and they build a curriculum of reading, math, science, and arts and crafts.

“I stay busy, and it’s good to be busy at what you like to do,” she said. “It makes you feel like you’re not working.”

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