Nurse's evangelism crosses national, societal borders

Published June 19, 1999|Updated Sept. 29, 2005

A Spring Hill woman adds supporting a prison ministry in Guyana to an already busy schedule of good works.

Carol Santoiemma's spiritual cup is filled to the brim.

In addition to being an active substitute Sunday school teacher and singing in the choir, she helps out wherever she's needed.

"I enjoy evangelism," said Santoiemma, a member of Spring Hill Fellowship Wesleyan Church.

Not having enough on her plate, the 46-year-old Hernando-Pasco hospice nurse has accepted the challenge of supporting a prison ministry in Guyanain South America. She is coordinating with a sister church, the Charlotte Street Wesleyan Church.

Her goal is to provide the prisoners of Camp Street Prison and Lusignan Prison with Christian and personal items. Santoiemma is accepting donations of toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper, combs, soap and other toiletry items. She also needs Bibles and Christian literature.

Santoiemma has been a member of Fellowship Wesleyan for eight years, having moved to Spring Hill from Hicksville, N.Y., nine years ago. In addition to always being there for her church, she also teaches a life skills class at the Hernando County Jail.

"I teach the class from a Christian perspective," she said. "I teach the inmates how to fill out a job application, how to balance a checkbook, how to dress _ basic everyday things."

Santoiemma became involved with the prison ministry when the Rev. Shelton Woods, the church's pastor, returned from Guyana in January and asked her to take on the prison ministry program. She accepted.

Woods has been traveling to Guyana for the past five or six years teaching at the Wesleyan Bible College in Georgetown and conducting seminars to raise scholarship money.

While in Guyana, Woods was approached by one of the prison directors who informed him of the high rate of recidivism encountered in both prisons. In an attempt to reduce the numbers, the church began counseling prisoners and sharing Christianity with them while they were behind bars.

Sponsors were found for the released prisoners to assist in finding a job and a place to stay. A church member kept in touch with them each day.

But another problem existed: The families of the convicts were too poor to provide personal items. Woods said when he explained the problem to Santoiemma, "she ran full speed with it."

Woods said it's a good outreach program not only because it helps people but it also aids international relations and understanding people in another culture.

The married father of two grown children said he pastors an outreach congregation that is rallying around the program.

"The area is alive and although probably two-thirds are retired, it's a very dynamic group," Woods said.

Santoiemma has sought help from the prison and missionary friends and used the telephone directory to get donations and ideas for shipping to Guyana. Letting her fingers do the walking has particularly paid off in several ways.

One of those contacts is 57-year-old Dewey E. Painter, the international commander of Christian Veterans Association in Jacksonville, a group that provides relief in national disasters.

"We are involved in 39 countries and have donated more than 5-million pounds of stuff since 1994," Painter said.

The group gathers and ships medical supplies, household and school supplies, clothing, food, church supplies, furniture and Christian tracts.

Santoiemma said the DayStar Life Center in Spring Hill has been very helpful in collecting donations for the program and the Rev. Anthony D'Angelo, the prison's program director, was instrumental in leading her in the right direction for donations. The International Bible Society donated about 80 copies of the New Testament; the Salvation Army gave 11 soft-cover New Testament Bibles.

Love Press, an international outreach program of the St. Luke's Cataract and Laser Institute, donated 200 Christian books, written by St. Luke's founder and director, Dr. James P. Giles.

Faith Christian Academy and Learning Center and West Hernando Christian School, both in Spring Hill, hope to begin working with Santoiemma on her prison ministry in the fall.

Shipments to Guyana are expected to leave Florida around September.

As for future ministry projects, Santoiemma said that is up to a higher power.

"I go as God leads," she said.

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