Jim Winston, left, and former fellow police officer Jim Boetjer, right, manned a booth together at last year’s Parktacular event at Expo Idaho. They handed out Bibles specifically designed for men and women in law enforcement. (Courtesy photo)
By Gaye Bunderson
As head of the Treasure Valley Chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers, Jim Winston is working to revive an organization that has been dormant in Idaho since 2017. He started to reactivate the FCPO chapter in 2019 but, like so many things, his plans were waylaid by the pandemic. Now his efforts have been recharged, and he’s giving the project everything he’s got.
“I think our mission is to support believers in the law enforcement profession and to encourage them, both with fellowship and discipleship,” Winston said. “The other prong is to witness to those who are not believers and show them the benefit of faith in Christ.”
So what challenges might he face, or has been facing?
“Some cops believe they can’t be a Christian in this profession because of the things they have done,” Winston said. “Others are watching to see if you practice what you preach.”
Another challenge is the temperament of many in law enforcement. “They’re Type A people, and they don’t like to admit they need help. Control freaks can’t give their life to God,” Winston said, admitting he knows this from first-hand experience.
He acknowledged that he himself is still a Type A person, but it’s different now. He’s given up trying to control everything on his own and discovered, “It’s amazing what God can do through you when you give up control.”
His law enforcement experience and his devotion to God make him the perfect candidate to relaunch and lead the FCPO.
Winston, now 61, was not born into a Christian family; his parents divorced when he was very young, and his mom raised him. They would occasionally go to church, but it was not a full-time commitment. Raised in Manteca, Calif., he went to a junior college post-high school and got a degree in forestry. At the time, there were no jobs in that field, so he went back to college and studied criminal justice. He then put himself through the police academy and got a job as a reserve officer for the Tracy, Calif., police force for almost two years. He became a full-time policeman in January of 1986 and worked in that position for 27 years before retiring in 2015.
During that time, he married and had two children. His wife of 37 years, Penny, grew up in church, but about 5-6 years into the couple’s marriage, Winston explained, they started “partying”; and while his wife went along with it initially, she eventually said to him, “I want to get back into church.”
His reaction was to say okay, he’d go, but only conditionally. If a sports game he wanted to watch was on TV or he wanted to take a ride on his motorbike on a Sunday, he wasn’t going to church that day and that had to be fine with her. She agreed, said she could live with that, and didn’t fight him. But when she’d go to church without him, people would ask, “Where’s Jim?”, and she’d say, “He’s not here, and we need to pray for him.”
When he did go to church, Winston said, he was seeing good men, godly men, some of whom belonged to Promise Keepers, an evangelical Christian organization for males; and he now realizes that God was showing him what a godly man was like.
At one point during his hit-and-miss church attendance, Winston realized that his wife and two kids were saved, in the Christian sense, and he hadn’t made that decision. In that regard, he felt he wasn’t a great example to them. His Type A personality fought with his inner willingness to take that step into salvation. He felt he’d lose his autonomy and his much vaunted sense of being in control if he surrendered to God. But he soon realized he couldn’t do it all, couldn’t fix everything, and couldn’t figure it all out. He also struggled with thinking he wasn’t worthy, until he came to understand, “God wants to fix us.” He thought he’d made himself a more presentable person by watching his language, among other things. “Then a lightbulb came on,” he said, “and I thought, ‘I’ve been going about this all wrong’. I’m really supposed to be giving ALL of my life to God.”
He too was now saved, redeemed through grace and faith, and destined for eternal life with his Savior. Winston stated that through his faith, he came to see that being in law enforcement was not just a job or a profession but a calling. And he lived out his calling on the Tracy police force for many years after that.
Now his calling has led him to revive the Idaho chapters of the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers. He joined FCPO because, “I was looking for an avenue. I was looking for something post-retirement. I wanted to serve the Lord and serve law enforcement.”
His mother grew up in Nampa, and they’d visited family here over the years. So in 2016, he and his wife moved up to Payette following Winston’s retirement.
After settling into Idaho, he started doing research. He went to the FCPO website and saw there were three chapters in Idaho. However, after further research, he found all three chapters were now defunct. He contacted the national office of FCPO in Chattanooga, Tenn., and they encouraged him to reactivate an Idaho branch, which ultimately became the Treasure Valley Chapter – officially, Chapter 139.
He began by trying to find prayer groups that were law enforcement-focused, and he’d meet with them and talk with them about joining FCPO. He even found a law enforcement Christian group in Boise that had been meeting since 1972 to pray and hold a Bible study. It was not an FCPO-affiliated group but, Winston said, “Out of that, I got a few people to come on board.”
Winston and his wife attend the annual National Police Week in Washington, D.C., and set up a table there to pass out FCPO information. It was there that Winston met an officer in May of 2022 in D.C. at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. “He said because he has killed people as a police officer – and also as a soldier – he couldn’t be forgiven,” Winston explained. “He took the ‘thou shalt not kill’ literally, when it [has more to do with] ‘thou shalt not murder’.”
Winston conceded there are times in the course of a law officer’s job – and certainly a soldier’s – when they may be in a position to need to protect themselves or others, and it is unfortunate, but a weapon may have to be used in the interest of safety.
Regarding the man at the memorial, Winston said he “made an attempt” to talk to him and offered to pray with him – but sometimes, according to the FCPO leader, those offers are rejected: “Then we don’t pray WITH them, we pray FOR them.”
Asked how many LE officers are believers, he replied, “There’s more believers than you might think.” Winston met another law enforcement retiree, Jim Boetjer, and the pair have manned information booths at KTSY’s Parktacular events and at Greg Laurie’s Harvest Crusade held in Boise in 2022.
Winston and Boetjer, who leads a men’s ministry called Man in the Mirror, connected shortly after Boetjer moved to Idaho from northern California five years ago. “I began thinking about whether or not FCPO had a chapter here in the Boise area. I had previously been the chapter president in San Bernardino for many years while I was a policeman there. I contacted the national headquarters for information, they put me in touch with Jim, and we began meeting and became friends.”
Winston and Boetjer, having similar backgrounds and beliefs, understand police officers’ lives out of their own shared experiences. Said Boetjer: “In light of the unique and enormous strain and stress from on-the-job experiences, it is imperative that effective ministry to the law enforcement community be offered. The problem lies in the fact that most people outside of law enforcement cannot completely identify with the life and experiences that they have. FCPO is comprised of fellow officers who know what cops in crisis struggle with. In addition, they offer biblical answers and connection with God, which is missing in secular counseling. FCPO also offers community and connection with brothers and sisters who are Christ followers. It is a chance to deepen their walk with Jesus through Bible studies and fellowship.”
FCPO would like to partner with a church looking for an outreach ministry. “Reach out to us, and we can meet,” Winston said. Contact him via email at [email protected] or by phone at (209) 470-8692. Others interested in the group may look on its national website at www.fcpo.org, search out the local chapter, and reach out to Winston online.
Winston’s family has always respected what he does for a living. “My wife has been a law enforcement wife for 30 years, and that’s a hard job,” he said. Currently, both his wife and a son are probation officers in Payette County, and Winston serves as coordinator.
When asked about the rough talk cops are sometimes noted for, the FCPO leader who cleaned up his speech, stated: “Our language is one aspect that can be quickly addressed. I see many in law enforcement (and society in general) that are professed Christians, but it would be hard to realize that from their language. I have come to realize that one of the hardest things for me to hear someone say about me would be, ‘I didn’t know you were a Christian.’ That, to me, would be an indicator that I am not living my life in a way that reflects my relationship with Christ.”