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Kerby Keller photo credit: Kerby Keller

Kerby Keller photo credit: Kerby Keller

Supporting children for a lifetime

Cathryn Clinton
July 25, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – When Kerby Keller suggested supporting a child at a meeting of the Missions Committee of the Protestant Christian Community in the State Correction Institute in Dallas, Pa., some said many missions weren't efficient in using money for children. Keller was given the job of looking for a beneficial mission.

Keller was from Lancaster County, Pa., and had heard of Mennonite Central Committee, so in a letter dated December 25, 1992, he wrote to MCC, "I wish to inquire about Mennonite Central Committee's (MCC) Global Family Program and its efficiency."

Kate Myers of the Global Family staff replied in a letter that 87 percent of the annual contribution went to sponsor children and young adults in their education. Keller decided that God wanted him personally to sponsor a child. He said that that he "wanted children to learn about Jesus Christ." He has been doing this since March 21, 1993.

The Global Family Program still works to support individuals, families and communities in other countries around the world by providing support for education.

Keller has supported three children from India: Monjit Sarker, Rajib Mondol and Silvia Sweety Testra. The first two boys that Keller supported have graduated from high school, but Testra is still in school. He has all the letters they have written to him.

Keller says, "At times here in prison we get to complaining. Sometimes justly so, most times not. Supporting these children and knowing how they live is part of what keeps me grounded. There are people who have it worse than me."

Keller is serving a life sentence, with a consecutive term of five to 10 years, in prison. In Pennsylvania, there is no parole for "lifers." He has been in prison for 19 years.

Keller grew up on a dairy farm in Lancaster County. He joined the Marines, and after a stint in Vietnam, came back to Lancaster and worked in various jobs. He was also part of a motorcycle gang called the Pagans.

In 1981, Keller married and his life focused on his wife Barbara, his son, real estate development and their farm. In 1989, Keller's wife left him. He was charged with killing her on June 20, 1989. He was convicted of first-degree murder.

During the last six months of 1989, Keller was in the Lancaster County Prison awaiting trial. If he was convicted, he knew that he could face the death penalty. As Keller said, "It was like looking down into your own open grave."

One day, Chaplain Dave Myer told him a Bible story about a wayward son who goes home to his waiting father and about a prophet who had tried to run away from God. After learning about salvation through Jesus Christ, Keller fell on his knees and prayed through much of the night. He says he gave his situation to God.

Keller says that he was a different person with a different nature. He told God that wherever he went, he would serve Him. For the last 18 of his 19 years in prison that has been in the State Correctional Institute at Dallas.

In the Dallas visiting area, the white-haired, 61-year-old Keller said, "My mission here is to set a good example and let people see Christ through me. It's hard here," he paused and smiled, "but people can't get away from you."

He was baptized at the prison in 1992, and became a member of the White Oak Church of the Brethren in Manheim. The church and his family have supported him through visits and letters. His mother has written him every week for 19 years.

For most of his time at Dallas, Keller worked in the cabinet-making shop. He built items for the Brethren Disaster Relief Auction. One oak roll top desk sold for $4,400. Eugene Hoover, a volunteer for MCC and prison ministry work, wrote Keller and asked him if he would build something for the Support for Prison Ministry auction. Keller did this for many years, and Hoover said that some of his items brought in as much as $500 for a small piece.

Keller has completed 43 correspondence Bible courses through Emmaus Bible College, Dubuque, IA., and has been a facilitator for Long Distance Dads groups. He serves as a deacon focusing on mission outreach in the Protestant Christian Community.

Keller says that he wants to encourage others to get involved in Global Family because there are kids that need help. "I don't see this as doing anything out of the ordinary. The glory belongs to God."