|Director Mark Casson with his wife Raylene and daughters Joelle and Eliana.|
Mark Casson, Director
There are some things that a person never forgets. They are indelibly etched into his mind. For Mark Casson, it was the words of a Superior Court Judge who told him in March, 1989, “I hereby sentence you to life in prison with the possibility of parole. The key word here, sir, is possibility. You may never parole from prison and in fact, you may die there. Do you understand this sentence I am imposing on you?”
These words were spoken only a few weeks after Mark was converted to Christ through jail/prison ministry. For the next 15+ years, he would spend his days growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Mark availed himself of the few Bible studies and courses which were available to him, and he spent much of his time in the Word, teaching others and ministering from the “inside”.
Mark went to five parole hearings and was denied parole each time. It was at the sixth hearing that he heard the words, “By unanimous decision, we find you suitable for parole.” On February 19, 2004, he walked out of prison a twice freed man.
Mark has continued his active Christian life on the outside. For 9 years he and his family lived in Fresno CA, where Mark served as a ruling elder at Sierra View Presbyterian Church (PCA). In 2013 they moved to Chattanooga TN, where Mark currently serves as a ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church (PCA). Metanoia is now headquartered in Chattanooga.
Since his release, Mark has been involved in the Dare to Hope program, which takes a message of hope into the prisons in his area. He has been blessed to return to prison more than a dozen times through this program. He has been actively involved in teaching Bible Studies, Sunday School, and the occasional exhortation from the pulpit. He has worked with people at the local Rescue Mission, and he continues to minister to children at a local children’s shelter with the members of his church.
In 2007 Mark was added to the Board of Directors of Metanoia Ministries. Sensing Mark’s burden for prisoners, his love for the great commission and his desire to see men and women changed through the power of the gospel, the Board called Mark to be their Executive Director in 2008.
John Theoharis, Associate Director
John brings over ten years of cross-cultural missions and community outreach and development experience to Mission to North America and Metanoia Prison Ministries. Most recently serving as a missionary on the Global Training & Development Team at Mission to The World, and to Tanzania, East Africa, John focused on helping other missionaries and nationals thrive in their unique ministry contexts by developing and delivering training and coaching strategies that equipped them to address and navigate the challenges they faced in cross-cultural work.
Then back in 2015, John was invited by a friend to teach at a local county jail in Georgia. He immediately felt tremendous love for the prisoners and started a weekly life-on-life discipleship group that he eventually took into a local prison as well. Through those relationships, John came to Metanoia, where he now uses his experience to encourage churches to “remember the prisoner” and to help build sustainable and scalable reintegration ministries which equip our returning citizens with the life-skills and knowledge they need for a successful return to society. As Metanoia’s Associate Director, John is responsible for overseeing and directing the organization’s daily operations, leading the development and implementation of its strategic initiatives, and partnering with Metanoia’s Director to ensure all organizational development goals are being managed and achieved. With a huge heart for the “least of these,” John also has the privilege of serving the prisoners directly every week. He teaches biblically based leadership classes, leads Metanoia’s mentoring programs at his area prisons, and serves on the chaplain team at his main prison. He has built lifelong friendships with some of the prisoners, and he has witnessed God’s miraculous grace at work in their lives, and at work in the lives of so many others. In experiencing these blessings, John’s prayer has become that others would remember that the prisoner is included in the words of Jesus when He says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
John is an ordained minister and nationally certified chaplain. He is a graduate of Metro Atlanta Seminary, and he is currently pursuing an MS in Organizational Leadership at Belhaven University. John and his wife, Carla, live in Suwanee, Georgia. They attend Grace Community Presbyterian Church where they are both active in discipleship, and he, in teaching ministries as well.
Shelly Marshall, Correspondence Course Facilitator
Mrs. Michelle “Shelly” Marshall is married with two children, Emily Ann and Owen Langley Marshall. Shelly was raised by a single mom who expected her children to fend for themselves, achieve good grades, and make something of their lives. They frequented the Polish Catholic Church in her hometown of Syracuse, New York, but the services were conducted completely in Polish.
Shelly’s early adult life revolved around work and drinking. In her early thirties, Shelly got seriously sick, which led her to re-evaluate her lifestyle and an obvious problem with alcohol and cocaine. She checked herself into a drug and alcohol program where she found temporary relief in Alcoholic’s Anonymous (A.A.) and Cocaine Anonymous (C.A.) .Shortly thereafter, one of her friends from the meetings invited her to church. A few Sundays later the Lord graciously changed her heart. Miraculously, Shelly became a new creature in Christ with absolutely no desire to ever drink or drug again.
Shelly has a rich background in bookkeeping, office management, database set-up and management, tax preparation, and utilizing a wide variety of computer programs. She had her own bookkeeping business for many years serving lawyers, restaurant owners, and small business owners.
Shelly has a real heart for prison ministry. Her prison ministry experience began when she married her husband who spent 10 years in prison. When her husband graduated from seminary, they founded Metanoia Ministries (MM) together and opened a discipleship home for men just getting out of prison. For five years Shelly served as the matriarch and assistant to the director as she helped her husband oversee MM, keep the ministry books, and interacted daily with each of the men who lived in the home. When MM needed more beds to meet the growing number of applicants, Shelly used an inheritance she had received to help Metanoia Ministries move into a new 14 bed facility. She said, “It is God’s money, and so it should be used for God’s purposes.” Shelly participated in some of the new resident interviews, she regularly served as an extra pair of eyes and ears, and she managed all the finances for the ministry.
Today, Shelly holds the title of Executive Assistant to the Executive Director of Metanoia Ministries. Her responsibilities include designing all the handsome correspondence course covers, setting up and maintaining a comprehensive database, copying and reproducing all of our course materials, mailing all the course material to instructors, students, and chaplains, interacting with all our instructors and students, and handling a dozen other odds and ends that pop up week to week.
Shelly is thankful she has the opportunity to serve brothers and sisters in Christ who are in prison. She knows what it is like to be imprisoned in sin as well as the joy of being set free by the Sovereign Grace of God. She sees the need. Her prayer is to be a small part of the solution to that need.
Randy Jackson, Regional Director, NW Georgia
While serving in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood, Texas, I came to know the Lord in a saving way on the night of November 18, 1986 at a Petra concert in Austin. Since that point, I cannot deny that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has walked with me in amazing ways! While at Fort Hood, I befriended another soldier who led me into a personal understanding of Reformed Theology that has structured and informed my Faith to this day. After being honorably discharged from the military and returning home to New Jersey, I began attending a Church in Brooklyn, New York. Through that congregation, I grew to understand that Christianity held the only consistent worldview possible, and that the Word of God held the only way by which a person might know truth in the first place.
Through that church, I attended Mid-America Reformed Seminary, and from there, traveled to Monroe, Louisiana where I met my wife and began teaching at a small public school in Farmerville. When my wife wanted to complete her doctoral work, we moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where she attended the University of Mississippi and I taught at Oxford High School. I also preached regularly at Koinonia Baptist Church in Clinton, and later was called as an Assistant to the Pastor at Lawndale Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in Tupelo.
After receiving her Doctoral degree, my wife accepted a position at Covenant College, and I was called into full-time ministry as the Christian Education Director at New City Fellowship PCA in Chattanooga, Tennessee. After serving there for 6 years, God led me to finish what I had started at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, and I also discovered and transferred my membership to Grace PCA in Dalton, Georgia.
At Grace PCA, I was a called as Assistant Pastor of Outreach and Assimilation and encouraged to pursue ordination in the PCA. In July of 2014, I was ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, and I served as Pastor in the Interim at Grace from February to December of 2015. While serving in Dalton, I taught High School Bible courses part time at Christian Heritage School and became active at Walker State Prison mentoring several inmates and preaching at Grace’s Friday evening worship service in the prison. It was then that Mark Casson approached me concerning an opportunity to serve in prisons expanding the Mentoring Ministry of Metanoia Prison Ministries.
The Lord has walked with me and led me in amazing ways, and I believe that He is not finished with me yet; as the psalmist sang in Psalm 71,
“Even when I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, O God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your might to all who are to come.”
Tim McCracken, Regional Director, San Joaquin Valley
For nearly 29 years, Rev. Tim McCracken served as Pastor of First Reformed Presbyterian Church in Fresno, CA, before coming on staff with Metanoia Ministries as Regional Director San Joaquin Valley March 1, 2017.
In 2006 Pastor Tim received a letter from an inmate on the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (SATF) side of Corcoran State Prison, which asked, “Do you ever write to prisoners?” Through fellowship with that man, and through the bible study that formed as a result, Pastor Tim began to realize the vastness of the prison population near Fresno and the uniqueness of both the need and opportunity there. Fresno is located within an hour and a half’s drive of about 34,000 incarcerated persons! Over time, opportunities arose for a teaching relationship with about 100 men on 5 yards at 3 different facilities, and in each case the men asked that the studies be started.
The uplifting fellowship and eagerness of the brothers began to make Tim wonder if there could be a way to eventually serve as a full-time missionary chaplain to these men, but reflection on the Metanoia model of ministry convinced him that helping to cultivate a mission mind and sense of joint endeavor in our area churches was more important than seeking to personally minister in as many places as possible. In the broader San Joaquin Valley, our like-minded churches have so much to offer the 18 prisons within reach! Dozens can be recruited. Hundreds! Maintaining the existing long-term relationships at the three facilities mentioned as a foundation, Tim eagerly anticipates the multiplication of relationship that will develop through partnering with and serving Valley churches.
Tim and his wife Lori are the parents of three grown children, and they both have a great love for music. Lori has served for many years as accompanist for both Fresno’s wonderful Inspire-1 youth choirs and the Sierra Chamber Opera, and Tim enjoys a cappella singing and leading the young men’s High School Ensemble from Inspire-1.
Paul Miller, Regional Director, Texas
Upon graduating from Westminster Theological Seminary, Paul Miller served seven years as the founding RUF campus minister at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. During his time there he was invited to join a local prison ministry. Though he was very anxious at the thought of entering a maximum security prison, he was excited about the opportunity to share the gospel with those incarcerated. Upon his first visit, Paul’s heart was filled with the love of God for prisoners. Inmates immediately responded to him, asking him to return to preach in their chapel services whenever possible. Paul found that inmates were quick to open up to him, seeking his counsel on how to have a closer walk with the LORD. He wondered if God may be calling him into full time prison ministry.
After much counsel and prayer, Paul has decided to accept the call to be the first Regional Director for Metanoia Prison Ministries in Texas. The Miller’s are very excited for this new opportunity to share the glorious gospel of Christ’s saving grace throughout the prisons in Texas. Paul believes that his life with all of its highs and lows, victories and struggles, has prepared him to minister in a the very difficult environment of prisons.
Paul and Laura met in Dallas marrying in 2003. Jack came along in 2009 and is their greatest blessing. The Miller’s enjoy vacations at the beach, good movies, neighborhood walks, and playing tennis together. Paul is a foodie who loves to cook and enjoys sharing meals with friends and family. Besides caring for the family and helping Paul with ministry, Laura enjoys working part time for Stitch Fix as a stylist. Jack keeps his parents entertained with his stories, plays, and by teaching them Minecraft. Jack also enjoys cub scouts and soccer. The Miller family would not be complete without their two lovable dogs, Mathis and Thomas.
Barry Smith, Regional Representative, Florida
After 30 years of ministry from youth ministry volunteer to executive pastor Barry stumbled and fell hard. In 2007, during a time of depression and deep discouragement he turned to alcohol for relief and became an alcoholic. On his downward spiral he did things and hurt people in ways he never thought he would. As a result, he was divorced, deposed from the ministry, sentenced to five years’ probation, and for two year lived in an inner-city rescue mission.
It was during his time that Jesus began to reveal himself to Barry in deeper ways than he had previously known. He began to understand grace for even the worst of sinners, of which he was one.
He was remarried in 2010 and moved to Miami. It was through the love, acceptance, and support he received from his wife, and his deepening understanding of the love and acceptance of Jesus, that Barry has been sober since August 2014.
With sobriety came a renewed desire to serve in ministry. But where can a disgraced, former pastor serve? In 2016 he was asked to teach a course for MINTS Seminary at Dade Correctional Institution in Florida City, FL.
At Dade Barry found men enlivened by the Spirit who passionately wanted to serve God and make a difference for His Kingdom. They were hungry to be educated and trained so that they could minister effectively inside their prison and in churches and ministries after their release.
In 2017 Barry was asked to lead the MINTS Seminary Prison Program. He also connected with Mark Casson and a partnership between MINTS Seminary and Metanoia Prison Ministries launched with a Seminary program at Walker State Prison. The MINTS Prison program has grown from three prisons to fourteen in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Barry comes to Metanoia as the Regional Director for Florida. He will also continue as the coordinator for MINTS Prison Theological Education. He is excited to combine Metanoia discipling and mentoring with MINTS theological education and ministry training in a comprehensive program for prisoners.
Barry has a MA in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and will soon have a MA in Theological Studies from MINTS. Barry and his wife Gail have eight children and five grandchildren between them. They currently reside in Cutler Bay, FL but are in the process of moving to Chattanooga.