For the last seven months Joe Conkle has stood outside the Ashland County Courthouse passing out gospel tracts and cordially telling how they may obtain eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
Joe has been doing this over the lunch hour each Friday as a part of his church's street evangelism ministry, a ministry he started up soon after he retired from his work as a corrections officer.
For 22 years Joe worked as a guard at Mansfield Correctional, the maximum security prison facility located just off route 13 in Mansfield. Joe retired from MANCI in 2012 after an accident forced him to go onto disability.
Joe said he sees his accident more as a work of God's providence than a random, freak occurrence. "At the time I didn't know what I was going to do. But had I never blown out my knee, I would never have been able to do the stuff I'm doing now."
Joe also claims that the Lord guided him into MANCI in order to prepare him for his work as an evangelism. One example is the long hours he spent standing at his post at the prison. He said it trained him to not mind the lengthy amounts of time he now spends standing out on the pavement passing out tracts.
He also expressed that the prison played a vital role in helping him to control his emotions. "You always have to be in control as a corrections officer. Otherwise, the inmates will know how to get to you."
This has come in handy when ministering at events like the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby, where he says people can be quite antagonistic to any gospel activity. "You'll always have hecklers at these things. Usually there is quite a bit of alcohol involved too. So you have to be able to keep your cool."
Joe has traveled throughout the country with Sports Fans Outreach International, a ministry that seeks to bring the gospel to those who attend professional sporting events. But most of Joe's ministry takes place locally and in connection with Providence Church, where he has been a member for the last 2 years.
Joe's street ministry, which has been conducted on a weekly basis in both Mansfield and Ashland, also includes a "prayer stand." Joe and his friends pray with any passers by who would like help with their lives and concerns.
Joes ministry is wrapping up for the year as temperatures are starting to drop. However, he says he already looks forward to starting it up again next spring.