It was about seven years ago when Father put it in my heart to do more prison ministry. I didn’t know where or how so like always, I just went to Google. I searched for all the women’s prison facilities in Texas. I landed on a place called Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility. It was a long way from my house; to be exact it was about 430 miles round trip but for some reason I seemed to be especially drawn to it. Now, I don’t really think it’s wisdom to walk up to a prison and knock on the door and tell them you’ve come to share the gospel. If God hasn’t arranged it, you better stay home! So I prayed and then the waiting came. You know, that time when you’re sitting on go, ready to take off for God, but He’s not giving the go ahead. That’s a very important time and it’s very important not to get ahead of God. I believe it’s during that waiting time that Father actually prepares us for the assignment ahead. So, I waited! And for the next two years, every month or so I would pull up the website, read to see if there were any changes and ask Father, “Is it time, yet?” Then one day “a suddenly” happened. The info on the website had changed. Finally! There was a face I recognized and a familiar name. A new warden was in town. Jacquelyn Banks was her name. Ms. Banks had served as Warden at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility located about 30 minutes from Natchez, Mississippi. While she was there, I had been a member of Marejohn Brock’s prison ministry team that ministered monthly at that facility (another long trip from my house). But now, Ms. Banks had been transferred from Wilkinson County to Bridgeport. Hey! Lights flashed and whistles blew! This was my cue. I knew in my knower it was time to make contact. I fired off an email explaining who I was, gave a little background history from Wilkinson County, and asked if there was any possibility of being able to minister at the Bridgeport Women’s Unit. I was so excited! I knew God was in this and I could hardly wait for an answer. I didn’t have to wait long. Within thirty minutes I had a return email that said she would be delighted for me to come to Bridgeport. Thank you, Jesus! The door had finally opened.
The waiting was over or so I thought. Contact with the Chaplain revealed I had to first complete orientation periodically taught by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) as well as the training required by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). How long would this take? The Chaplain said probably a couple of months. I suspected I would also have to travel to one of the units hours from my house. Oh, well. I applied on-line for the TDCJ training (this was Tuesday). On Thursday I was contacted by the Chaplain at Telford Unit. They were going to have orientation training at Telford Unit on Saturday and I could attend if I wanted. This meant I could get the orientation the same week and Telford Unit is only about six miles from my house. Wow! Does Father made great arrangement, or what! But, then, I still had to complete the CCA orientation. The next Monday, I contacted the Chaplain to let her know I had completed the TDCJ training and God moved miraculously again. The CCA orientation was planned for the upcoming weekend. She said if I could come on Friday, we could get all my paperwork done, I could attend the orientation classes, and would be able to minister on Saturday night. Could I come? Could I come? Well, of course, I could come! In less than two weeks, the door had opened and every requirement had been met for me to minister at that facility. That had to be God!
And, so, I went for the first time in July 2012 and have been going once a month ever since. Oh, I’ve had to miss a couple of times when I was sick and once because of the weather but overall I’ve made that trip fifty plus times during the past five years. God blessed the ministry and I’ve always had great attendance for the meetings. But, it wasn’t always easy. When I first started going to Bridgeport, there was a Captain who obviously didn’t care for the ministry. It’s an understatement to say she made life a little difficult and I was seriously tested; but love prevailed and for several years I’ve had tremendous favor with the administration and staff. I’ve been able to speak hope and encouragement to over 2000 women during these meetings. I planted a lot of seeds, saw many hearts touched, and know in my heart that lots of lives were changed by a simple message of love from Jesus. But, even though they were blessed, I was the one who received the greatest blessing.
Monday night was the last time I will get to enjoy the ministry at the women’s unit at Bridgeport. You see, because of budget reasons and who knows what else, it’s being closed. The ladies are being paroled or shipped out to other facilities and the staff, well- a few are transferring to the men’s unit but most are losing their jobs. Neither option is good since those transferring lose their status and have to start over as entry level correctional officers at $10.81 an hour. I am praying for God to intervene and turn this calamity into a blessing for all concerned.
When I first starting going to Bridgeport it was mostly a two-lane state highway. Then construction began. The whole five years, I have driven through and watched a variety of construction projects transform the roadway into six lane thorough fares and divided highways. With the exception of about a half-mile it is all completed now. As I drove home yesterday, I thought how ironic it was that now that the road upgrades are all finished and driving is easier my assignment at Bridgeport is finished. The Chaplain has asked me to consider coming back to Bridgeport to minister at the men’s unit. I’m praying about it but so far have not received that knowing from Father that this is what I’m supposed to do. I do know that when He closes a door that He will open another and there is definitely another assignment waiting for me. But, right now, I will wait on God just like I did five years ago. I thank Him for the opportunity He gave me and praise Him for the work He did in the hearts and lives of so many; especially mine. This may be the end of this part of my journey but I know it is also the beginning of a new journey. That’s the way God works. The ministry will continue. I just don’t know when and where. But, God is faithful and He has a plan for me, just like He has a wonderful plan for you. I encourage you to be courageous and step into the plan He has for you. Follow His leadership and always remember, “Jesus Loves YOU!”
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