Jesus is the Way Ministry lives as founder's legacy
RANTOUL – Jesus is the Way Prison Ministries, which moved to Rantoul 11 years ago, will continue to work with former inmates despite the death of its founder and president.
The Rev. Jesse E. Mathes Jr. of Gifford died June 13 at the age of 65.
"Jesus is the Way will continue as a legacy to Jesse and keep going strong," said his widow, Edith Mathes, a member of the ministry board.
An Army veteran, the Rev. Mathes worked in construction prior to opening Jesus is the Way out of their home in Champaign 31 years ago.
The ministry was moved to a former Holiday Inn Junior in Rantoul in 1997. The motel serves not only as a headquarters for the ministry but also a place for former jail and prison inmates to get back on their feet while looking for jobs.
Rantoul Mayor Neal Williams praised the Rev. Mathes' efforts to change lives.
"Jesse helped a number of individuals in a very positive way," Williams said on Monday.
"He transformed the old Holiday Inn Junior to a facility where individuals couple make a transition to society. Jesse will be missed."
"He wanted a place (for former inmates) to come to where they could call home," said his daughter, Brenda Mathes, an administrative assistant at Jesus is the Way.
"He believed that the heart of Jesus was that everybody deserved that chance. Everybody makes mistakes, and if you put Jesus first, then you will succeed."
But it wasn't just ex-inmates that the ministry has tried to help.
"When he first received Jesus as his lord and savior, my dad's prayer to God was to help people that other people didn't want to help," Brenda Mathes said.
A native of Lenoir City, Tenn., the Rev. Mathes could relate to those he helped. He formerly had been incarcerated in a county jail.
Edith Mathes said her husband was converted to Christ during an altar call at a country church in his hometown, seven years after the Matheses had married.
"When he came up from the altar ... he stood up very radiantly and forcefully and says, 'If there is anyone who doesn't feel the way I feel, you should get down here to the altar right now.'"
She said his ministry began immediately, and her conversion soon followed.
She said his heart was always about telling others of Christ.
"I'm sure he's seeing a lot of people in heaven that he ministered to," she said.
Brenda Mathes said no definite successor has been selected.
She said two weeks prior to his death, her father told the board of his decision to retire, "and they were talking about people (who would make a good successor as president) and who they would like."
The Rev. Mathes, who had been in failing health in recent years, had worked primarily out of his home the past year.
Brenda Mathes said 60 volunteers assist in the ministry, going into jails and prisons and helping with the ministry's Aftercare program in Rantoul.