A Lead Like Jesus Jail Ministry founded by Yeshua Institute Fellow, Board Member and Senior Facilitator Dick Kunnert recently celebrated its seventh anniversary.

To date the ministry has hosted more than 1,000 Encounter participants – and many of them have reported life-changing transformations as a result of the experience.

“I think about (what I did) every day. I wish I never did it. No one was hurt, thank God,” a 19-year-old Hispanic prisoner told a reporter from the local daily newspaper six days after he participated in the Encounter.

He had arrived at the first session of the Encounter with a Latin King gang tattoo featured prominently under one eye, reticent to give his name to the Encounter’s facilitators. But on Easter Sunday he attended Mass celebrated by Bishop David Malloy, head of the Rockford Diocese.

The Encounter, usually a 1-day program, is offered once a month on four successive days in 2-hour segments at the jail in the Winnebago County Justice Center in Rockford, IL.

The Lead Like Jesus movement has supported the program since its inception, but this year the Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute’s board voted to sponsor the program as an ecumenical outreach. The jail program uses an ecumenical version of the Encounter in line with the ecumenical nature of the jail’s chaplaincy services.

“The fact that we are a Catholic organization does not preclude our involvement in and support of ecumenical activities,” said Dr. Owen Phelps, Director of the Yeshua Institute. “As we like to say, we don’t serve people because they’re Catholic, we serve them because we’re Catholic. Many inmates have told us how this experience has been life-changing, even life-saving for them, so we’re honored and blessed to be able to support it."

Kunnert noted that the ministry has been able to serve prisoners continuously for seven years because of the team that has come together to facilitate the Encounters. In addition to Kunnert it includes Ruth Fairchild, Gary Merkel and Pete Roche.

  • View a 3-minute video about the jail ministry here.
  • For more information about the ministry, contact Dick Kunnert at



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