On January 20, 2011, I entered Dawson State Jail for the first time. A short two hours later, I left forever changed.
Until I (fully) surrendered my life to Christ in 2009, I didn’t think about people in jail much, if at all. But when I did, my thoughts weren’t exactly Christlike or loving. I saw them as people who simply couldn’t follow the law. They deserved to be locked up – and worse, I thought they would probably never amount to anything.
When I joined Watermark in 2010, I decided to join Noteworthy, Watermark’s “prisoner pen pal” ministry. I had a demanding job at the time, and letter-writing seemed like a great way to make an impact that fit my busy schedule. A few months into serving with the pen pal ministry, a group of us were invited to go tour Dawson State Jail in Downtown Dallas and meet our pen pals in person.
The Impact of Face-to-Face
I won’t forget that day in January 2011, because God decided to rock my world and set me on a path of ministry and service that has changed and challenged me in so many ways.
As I sat and listened that day to the women in the “God Pod” (the faith-based dorm at Dawson), my heart broke for them as I heard about the brokenness and hurt that they had experienced in life. But my heart also burst with joy as we rejoiced together at the new life and hope they had found in Christ.
Once I met these ladies and heard some of their stories, I was hooked. I finally saw them as real people, people that God loves and cares for deeply.
A great quote from When Helping Hurts says, “The fall really happened, and it is wreaking havoc in all of our lives. We are all broken, just in different ways.” While the details of our stories are vastly different, we all have a poverty of spirit – a loneliness, a longing, a deep need to be known and loved – that only Jesus can fix. That commonality is all we need to relate to those who seem so different from us.
As we got on the elevator after our visit, our leader, Susan Turner, turned to me and said, “We really need mentors for the ladies. Are you interested?” I told her I’d pray about it, but I already knew in my heart that it was going to be a “yes.”
Remembering our Commonality
Four years later, I still love getting to connect with women who have experienced the criminal justice system but now have hope because of Christ. And even though many of them turn from God and return to their old ways, I remember God’s love and patience with Israel (and with me!). I remember that His love, patience, and forgiveness extend far beyond what we can humanly understand. My job is to continually remind them of the redemption available to them, and the compassion and everlasting kindness of our Savior.
The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God. “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:6-8 NIV)
Prison ministry is a broad term, and it doesn’t just mean going into jails and prisons. While “going inside" is an important part, there are other ways to get involved in impacting prisoners. You can encourage and disciple an inmate by writing letters through Watermark’s Noteworthy ministry. A number of additional ministries help ex-offenders start their new life on the outside, with housing, employment, discipleship, and other resources.
Wherever God calls you to serve, you will be changed – for your good, their good, and His glory.