Chaplain has a cross to bear

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 4, 2012

By Mark Wineka
CHINA GROVE — Chaplain Mike Oney carried a large cross from Kannapolis to Salisbury Monday, and he did it for guys you might not think of immediately — inmates at the Rowan County Jail.
“Somebody went to the cross for them,” Oney said, taking a breather from his walk while in China Grove. “I figure somebody can walk a few miles for them.”
A retired probation/parole officer, the chaplain and his homemade cross covered roughly 18 miles, mostly following U.S. 29.
Oney, 63, ministers regularly to inmates at the county jail in Salisbury, including most Fridays and sometimes on Tuesdays. His walk aimed at bringing attention to his goal of providing all prisoners with a leather-bound Bible, embossed with each one’s name.
“I guess it’s a dream of mine,” he says. “… I want them to know they’re important to me.”
On the back of his T-shirt Monday, Oney had fashioned a sign that said, “Bibles for inmates.”
He relied on a cross made from landscaping timbers with a wheel attached to the bottom so it could roll as he walked. The cross carried several messages and acronyms for organizations to which Oney belongs, including the N.C. Sheriffs Chaplains Association, Concerns of Police Survivors, Vets 4 Christ and Project SAFE Neighborhood.
Oney has been ministering to inmates for 18 years.
Call him reverend, chaplain, bishop — it doesn’t matter, Oney said. He has personally witnessed many times, in his own life and those of inmates, how the Lord can turn things around and make things better. Bibles are a conduit.
“If you have the want-to, God has the way,” Oney said.
Oney says he dealt with his own personal demons after serving in Vietnam. Eight months into his tour, Oney was sent home with an emergency appendectomy. The enemy later ambushed his unit, and several of his buddies were killed.
“I felt guilty for that,” Oney said.
He said he became addicted to drugs and alcohol, and it took God to save him. That was long ago.
Now he’s pastor of Cornerstone Worship Center in Marshville. He founded the small church 11 years ago.
“But my church just isn’t within the walls,” Oney emphasized.
Besides his work at the Rowan County Jail, Oney makes regular visits to nursing homes, including Big Elm in Kannapolis twice a month, and Autumn Care and Brian Center in Salisbury.
Oney’s own father was an alcoholic until turning to the Lord. He became a chaplain himself, whose ministry included jail inmates.
“Daddy became a chaplain for the jail I used to visit him in,” Oney said.
The chaplain says the jail population generally runs about 200. He conducts separate services for Spanish-speaking inmates but acknowledges, “My Spanish is not that strong.”
Anyone wishing to make a contribution toward Bibles for inmates can send their donations by mail to the Rowan County Detention Center, 115 W. Liberty St., Salisbury, NC 28145. Oney suggests that senders indicate somewhere on their checks that the donation is for Bibles.
Oney said he has met men in jail who know more about the Word than he does. Likewise, he has introduced the Bible to others for the first time.
He said his days as a probation/parole officer and jail chaplain have shown him the effects crime can have on families, especially children. Maybe personalized Bibles in the hands of inmates can help.
“I know the hurt and the pain out there,” Oney said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.