HARRISONBURG, Va. (Mennonite Mission Network) — Timothy K. Maloney got into a little more than the typical trouble as a young man growing up. He broke into a house and several stores which landed him in jail. Then he received a ten year jail sentence with the Maryland Division of Corrections.
The sentence changed his life and the lives of hundreds of others through his influence, and Mennonite Media (then Mennonite Broadcasts Inc.) played a significant part.
A recent disaster sent him searching for those responsible for part of his turnaround and he shared his story with Mennonite Media staff.
Growing up, Maloney was Roman Catholic, but never active in his faith or church. While in prison, a volunteer from Good News Mission helped him come to an active faith in Christ and introduced him to Bible correspondence courses as a way to grow as a Christian disciple.
From the 1950s through the early 1980s, Home Bible Studies were offered by (then) Mennonite Broadcasts as a follow up to its radio programs heard widely across the United States. and Canada (and some other countries), such as The Mennonite Hour, Heart to Heart, and Way to Life. (The same Home Bible Study correspondence courses are now available through the Gospel Echoes Team prison ministry.)
Maloney completed all of the Bible correspondence courses he could find and longed for more. He started researching what was available, and eventually came across the Mennonite Bible study courses, which were used and available free in many prisons across the country.
At one time, Mennonite Broadcasts had a full-time director, several part-time Bible study instructors and volunteers who graded the lessons — at one point processing up to 35,000 lessons in one year. Each course of 12-15 lessons had a study sheet which students completed and mailed in for comment and correction. The instructors often added individual encouragement and Bible counseling.
At the end of each course, students received a signed certificate of achievement. Maloney received more than 300 of these certificates from various Bible correspondence course organizations.
“I was very proud of those certificates,” Maloney said. “I kept very busy completing courses. I tried to never be led astray in teachings, if people tried to tell me things that I knew weren’t correct. These courses were essentially my Sunday School, since I grew up in a home which didn’t actively practice Christianity.”
Then on Christmas Eve 2002, Maloney’s home burned to the ground. Among the many ruins, he found scorched certificates, some burned in half, some unrecognizable. He decided to try and replace the certificates.
Grant M. Stoltzfus, later a well-known Mennonite historian, was first hired in 1955 by the forerunner of Mennonite Broadcasts, Crusaders for Christ, to develop Bible courses which were originally published jointly by arrangement between the Crusaders, Mennonite Board of Missions and Mennonite Publishing House. Through the years, other Mennonite luminaries who wrote for or directed the Home Bible Study program included J.C. Wenger, Ed Stoltzfus, Paul Roth, John L. Horst, Willard Swartley, Moses Slabaugh, J. Mark Stauffer and many others. Anna Marie Steckley was an instructor who worked at Mennonite Broadcasts from 1974 until her retirement in the early 1980s. She graded the lessons for the six courses Maloney took from Mennonite Broadcasts, completed between March 1980 and April 1981.
He tracked down Anna Marie Steckley, an instructor with Mennonite Broadcasts from 1974 to her retirement in the early 1980s who graded his lessons and still lives in the Harrisonburg, Va., community. Was there any way he could get new certificates?
Lowell Hertzler, current business manager for Mennonite Media, hunted for copies of the blank certificates in the Mennonite Media vault, made copies and had Steckley sign fresh copies for Maloney.
“Anna Marie and everyone I dealt with there was so nice and helpful. I think I was a bit of a puzzlement, though, because I went through Bible studies like a knife through butter,” said Maloney.
Through the years Maloney has come full circle. He has his own prison ministry out of Dry Ridge, Ky., offering Bible study courses to those incarcerated. The lessons are focused on just studying the stories and words in the Bible, not theology from any one group or denomination.
Mennonite Media has continued for more than 55 years picking up new forms of ministry as technology changes, with three of the primary media now being the Third Way Café (thirdwaycafe.com) Internet ministry Web site which seeks to interpret Mennonites for the general public; TV documentaries on social issues broadcast nationwide on ABC, NBC and Hallmark; and radio spots and programs on a variety of issues on hundreds of radio stations. “We get many responses currently but this makes you wonder who will be the Tim Maloney 25 years from now who comes back to tell us thank you, you changed my life,” says Burton Buller, director of Mennonite Media since 1999.