ABILENE - After the six-hour drive from Lufkin to Abilene, Roseanne Welch was thankful for the warm welcome she received as she walked in the door of the Eunice Chambless Hospitality House.
“I felt like I was coming to visit my family,” Welch said. “Everyone was so kind and welcoming from the moment we arrived. It felt like home.”
This was the first trip Welch made to visit her son, who is incarcerated in the French Robertson Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, since he was transferred from Huntsville to Abilene. As a single mom, with one son still at home, Welch’s budget was tight. Before hearing about the hospitality house, which provides housing to the families of inmates at little to no cost, she was unsure how she would be able to make frequent visits to see her son.
“With that off my mind – the financial burden lifted – I can relax and enjoy the visit,” Welch said. “I won’t have to worry about the budget when I get home. It takes a huge weight off your mind. It makes it something where you can plan the next visit – you don’t have to wait for the budget to clear up.”
Established in 1999 and located across the street from the Abilene prison system, ECHH ministers to the physical and spiritual needs of all who pass through. The 7,000 square foot facility features single and family sized rooms, a community kitchen, large gathering room, and is open every weekend visitors to the Robertson and Middleton Units of TDCJ. It is funded by support from the Abilene Baptist Association, local churches, individual donors and gifts from the Texas Baptists Christian Life Commission community care grants.
“ECHH is much more than housing. It’s much more than having a place to stay. It’s an opportunity to minister to families,” said Toby Hensen, pastor of First Baptist Church of Clyde and ECHH treasurer.
Tim and Yogi Christesson have served as the ECHH directors since 2008, providing care and love to all who stay. The Christessons have countless stories of relationships developed through the ministry, as they have ministered to families traveling from Houston and El Paso, even as far as England.
“You know when they are here, they are going to be loved on,” said Jacob West, pastor of First Baptist Church Stamford and chair of the board for ECHH. “Our directors are going to do everything they can to show the love of Christ to everybody that walks through the door.”
The namesake, Eunice Chambless, desired a place for families to come and hear about the love of Christ. She saw the house as way to live out the Gospel, according to Dr. Phil Christopher, pastor of First Baptist Church of Abilene.
West sees the ministry at ECHH as a continuation of Chambless’ vision.
“This ministry at the Eunice Chambless Hospitality House is about loving your neighbor as yourself,” West said. “Jesus said the people who inherit the Kingdom of God are those who go and check on people in prison. He said, ‘I was in prison and you came to see me.’ We want to minister to the people who are going to the prisons, seeing their families, seeing their friends and encouraging them in their effort to love their family and follow Jesus Christ.”
For Welch, the two-day visit with her son was necessary to keep his spirits up and remind him that he has family.
“Where he’s at right now is not where he will always be,” she said. “I am visiting so he doesn’t lose heart, to keep that hope alive.”
The safety, warmth and proximity to the prison provided Welch the support she needed. She looks forward to more visits with her son and returning to the ECHH soon.