Specialized Ministry — January 2008
By Betty Standifer, Assistant Professor of Graduate Education at Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, TN.
It was a blue jean and sweat shirt day. I had been grading critiques when I received an e-mail. This e-mail asked me to get to the prison to minister to a young girl who was in lock-down on suicide watch. I grabbed my Bible and ID badge, jumped into the car and headed for the prison. When I got there, I went through security, went through two sliding sections of bars, and then through two heavy locked doors.
Lock-down is a room 200/125 feet with small individual cells along the side of the room. There are five bunk beds and eight individual cells. The women in lock-down are there for very serious reasons—murder, drugs distribution, prostitution, and many other offenses. Usually they are in lock down because they cannot get along with the regular population.
This young girl was locked in one of the individual cells with someone by her side. The cells are not a very inviting place. Sometimes they are cold and sometimes dirty. The young girl was sleeping on the cold cement floor when I arrived. I asked if she could come out of the cell to sit with me at a table and talk. Permission was granted. She slowly put on her clothes and came out to talk. We talked for a long time. I felt led to allow her to just talk and to tell me all of the things that were on her mind. She did. I read scripture and as I was about to leave, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and said, “When you get up to leave, don’t just give her a short hug. You hold her in your arms and tell her that you love her and that I love her.”
As I stood, the young girl stood and I held her for a long, long time, patting her on the back and telling her that I loved her and that God loves her. She became weak and sat down in the chair. She looked up into my eyes with tears and said, “No one has EVER told me that they loved me.” My heart was broken to think that no one had ever told her that they loved her, but this is so very true with many women in prison.
God did something special in this young girl’s life that day. She is now attending a Bible class that I have every week. She has not missed a night.
There are over a million women incarcerated in the U.S. prison system that need to know that someone loves them and that God especially loves them. Most of them come from backgrounds of verbal and sexual abuse. Some of them have been abused since the very early age of 4-8 years of age. To make it worse, they were abused by family members. To hear their stories makes me cry. Some of these women have never had a chance at life.
You may ask, “Why do you go?” Being a Church of God Chaplain in the women’s prison has been the most fulfilling thing that I have ever done in my life. I have taught in public education most of my life and have taught at the university for nine years, but there is nothing that I have done that fulfills my life as much as telling the story of Jesus to these inmates. Many have been saved. Sadly enough, I have met some of our own Church of God women in this prison. Two of them rededicated their lives to God. It seemed to be a genuine experience for them. Have we failed to teach our women? Have we neglected them by refusing to have anything to do with them because they are poor? Have we failed them because they have been in trouble?
Most of the young women in prison come from poor backgrounds and they need a church that accepts them and teaches them of God’s love. Many times these young women will tell me they have tried church, but people just wouldn’t have anything to do with them. We must reach these women at a very early age so they can be mentored in the Word of God.
You may ask, “How can I get involved?” Have you considered volunteering at a local school as a mentor? Many children need help with their studies. This is a great place to start. Reach out to your community with Girls Clubs. Pray for our young girls. Ask God to raise up a group of girls for you to mentor in your communities. Don’t be afraid to go into the poor communities.
We desperately need women volunteers in our prisons. Would you be willing to go to take the message of Jesus?