Prison ministry stole my heart many years ago. Beginning in July of 2012, once a month, I made the 430-mile round-trip from my house to the Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility (women’s unit). Why did I go so far and so often? God said. And, I am obedient to what God says to do. My assignment was to carry the message of the gospel and to speak words of hope and encouragement.
The average attendance in those 60-90 minute meetings was generally between 60 to 85 women. The order of worship was simple: about 15 minutes for lively praise, another 15-20 minutes for specific teaching, and the remainder of the time was spent giving personal ministry. Even though the facility annually recognized my services as a volunteer, the only feedback I got from the women was what I would hear them calling out as they were making their way back to their dorms. “Thank you for coming, Miss Deb. We love you. Drive safe.” These were always heartwarming words to me.
Five years, almost 27,000 miles and 60+ meetings had come and gone since I first stepped into that facility and now on May 01, 2017 this was it; the last time I would walk through the metal detector, be patted down, and then escorted across the yard to the Rec Room. I would never know how God had used the ministry for His purposes or really what He had accomplished in that place. But, I was sure of one thing; I knew I had done what He wanted me to do. I have tremendous faith that He uses what I do to bring about good changes in the hearts and lives of people who receive the ministry. This time was a little different. Most of the women had been shipped out to other facilities leaving only four occupying the faith-based dorm. So for convenience sake, we would actually meet in the dorm rather than the Rec Room. Those four were glad to see me and anxious to hear the Word of the Lord.
We did praise and worship, and I brought the lesson from the Word and ministered to each one of them. When I had finished, we had some extra time so they asked if they could share what God had done for them through the ministry I had brought to them. Finally, I would get to hear some personal feedback. It was good. The first three shared their testimonies with great thankfulness of how God had touched them through the ministry and the encouragement they’d received. Their stories moved me; but, sorry to say I don’t remember the specifics of the first three. However, not so with the fourth woman. Even now, I remember the look in her eyes and the pull on my heart as she shared her story. Her words still ring in my ears. I can remember the particulars of her narration as if I heard it yesterday. Tears welled up in her eyes, and her voice quivered for a bit, but then she gained her composure and told us her story. By the time she finished, we were all wiping tears but rejoicing over the outcome. And now, I share her story with you exactly as she told it to us on that day some six years ago.
“When I was just a little girl, up until I was nine years old, it was only my mother and me. Then she met and married a man that was very rich. I got in the way of their lifestyle, and they decided they didn’t want me around anymore. So, they carried me to the front door of an orphanage and left me on the porch. I thought they were just leaving me a few days to go on a trip or something, but they never came back for me. The person who should have loved me most abandoned me. I hated my mother and my step-father for what they had done to me. My heart was full of anger and bitterness that grew and grew. Because of what was going on inside of me, I lashed out at others and was always in trouble. All I wanted was my mother. All I wanted was to be re-connected to my family. But, that didn’t happen.
With tears flowing down her cheeks, she went on to say, “As soon as I was old enough, I got out of that place, but I had no place to go except the streets. To survive, I got caught up in drugs and prostitution and a lot of other stuff, and by the time I was 18 I was in jail. I managed to get out a couple of times but then got caught on parole violations and ended up back in jail. I’m 49 years old now and have spent most of my adult life in prison. And all those 40 years, every day, I hated my mother and my step-father and blamed them for the miserable life I’ve had.
I know you don’t remember the night you ministered to me, or what you said, because you minister to so many people. But several months ago I was sitting on the front row in your meeting and you looked right into my heart and said, “Sweetie, God loves you so very much. And, He wants you to know He’s heard you crying out to Him and He wants to help you, but He’s telling me to tell you that you must release forgiveness to the people who’ve hurt you.” You said, “The un-forgiveness in your heart is destroying you, and when you let that go, it will be like you’ve been set free, and you will be like a new person.” I knew you had no way of knowing anything about my situation. When you looked at me, it was like I saw Jesus looking at me. And, I could feel the love of God coming out of you and into me. I knew it was God and I’d never felt God like that before.
That night I lay in my bed and tried to figure out what had happened in that meeting. Finally, I got up and knelt beside my bed and prayed “God I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want to forgive my mother and my step-father. Will you help me do that, God?” As soon as I had said the prayer, it lifted. I felt like a new person. It was awesome. But, I knew I couldn’t stop there. I wrote a long letter to my mother and step-father and told them all about what had happened to me in your meeting and what I had prayed. I told them I had totally forgiven them for abandoning me. There was just one problem. I didn’t know where to send it.
It took me almost three months and a lot of research, letters, and phone calls to other family and people I hadn’t seen or heard from in years, but I finally got an address and mailed my forgiveness letter. I was surprised by a phone call a couple of weeks later. It was my mother. She wanted to know if she could come and visit me. A few weeks ago, she and my step-father came here to Bridgeport. Forty years had passed since the last time I saw my mother. They admitted what they had done was definitely wrong and they wished they hadn’t done it and would I please forgive them. I was able to tell them, I already have.
I’m up for parole in a few more weeks. They want me to come and live close to them so we can be a family. They’ve bought me a car, have an apartment waiting for me, and my step-father is going to help me get a job. The only thing I’ve wanted for my whole life is finally going to happen. I am so thankful for this. I’m grateful to God for sending you to Bridgeport. I’m thankful you heard what God had to say to me, and you were bold enough to tell me what He was saying. I’m thankful His love was so strong in you that I could feel it and receive it. I’m thankful my life is brand new. I’m getting a chance to start all over. My family is going to be restored. None of this would have happened if it weren’t for you.”
Her story so touched my heart. Even today, my heart goes out to her for the rejection she faced and the misery that rejection caused in her life. But, I rejoice that she now has a loving relationship with the Lord and is reconciled with her family. The longing of her heart has truly been satisfied in more ways than one.
So if you want to know why I love prison ministry, that’s pretty much the reason. When I think about all those hours on the road and the sleepless nights on bad beds in the hotels, I remember this woman’s story and remind myself it is only one among many and it makes it all worthwhile. I don’t need to hear about each of them to believe they exist. Because I know Jesus and I were on a mission and He doesn’t quit until the purpose of the mission gets accomplished. So, about all I can say is “Thank you, Jesus” for taking me along for the ride and I sure hope there’ll be another prison mission somewhere in my future.
Thanks for checking out my website and coming to my blog page. I pray you will be blessed and encouraged by the things I share. Have a great day! Deb