Yesterday I wrote a little about my start in helping with a Bible study at our local detention center. I have learned so much through this experience. Here is just a taste.
- I realized how many reasons I have to thank God.
I love my life as a mom and homemaker. But some days I feel like I'm holding on by my fingernails and one more jolt will push me over the cliff.
Some days I need the reminder to count my blessings. I have a secure marriage, comfortable home, godly heritage, and a support network. These are unheard-of luxuries to the women in prison.
- I learned the benefit of studying God's Word.
I have heard Bible teaching all my life and thought I had a good amount of Bible knowledge.
But in teaching these women I had to dig deeper. Putting spiritual concepts into language and explanations that these women could grasp was a challenge. It wasn't good enough to know pat answers; I needed to know how to explain truth in living, relevant ways. My personal Bible time was changed by the effort of studying to share with others.
- I saw the benefit in Christ's example of sending workers out by twos.
Two ladies from our church attend the Bible study together. One prepares a Bible lesson and the other lends support.
How often I was glad that I wasn't alone. When the ladies brought questions such as “Does hell last forever?” my mind might go blank. I was sure there was a good Scriptural answer somewhere, but where? While one of us attempted to answer, the other paged through her Bible to find the Scripture that addressed the issue. And often the Lord put the right answers in our mouths and flipped the pages of the Bible to the right page.
My bond with my sisters in the church was strengthened as we served together. Sometimes it is easy to associate only with the ladies my own age or stage of life at church, but at prison I served with singles, grandmothers, and all ages in between.
- I learned that humans are the same everywhere, even behind bars.
At first I asked “What do I have to share with an inmate?”
But I soon learned that I could look at what I was struggling with, whether it be anger or ungratefulness, trusting God or controlling my tongue. Whatever the topic God was teaching me, I could share with these ladies. They have the same fears, struggles, and challenges that I do.
Yes, they may have chains of addiction I have never known, but the root causes and heart conditions are the same in every human. When the ladies shared prayer requests for their children and mourned over the separation from those they love, I could see that underneath the orange prison jumpsuit was a mother heart just like mine.
- I saw firsthand the wages of sin are steep.
Often I justify my own sin. Somehow it doesn't seem too bad to disobey as long as it is “small” or I don't get caught.
But in prison, the results of sin are much more obvious. No one sets out to become a prisoner of sin, but even small compromises will eventually reap a bitter harvest. If ever I'm tempted to try to manage life on my own without God, I hope I remember these ladies' stories.
- I learned that I'm not responsible for ministry results.
My enthusiasm was high when I first visited prison. We quickly formed relationships with the ladies who faithfully attended the Bible study each week. We rejoiced when their time was served, and they were released to return home.
But what a disappointment to see some of those same ladies back in prison a few months later. What had we done wrong? That is when I learned that I am not responsible for another's actions; I am only responsible for my own. God gives us the ability to choose. I can't give up just because of another's failures.
And it made us rejoice even greater when we meet a woman at the mall who has been out of prison for several years and making good choices. God's grace is available and mighty to help any of us live in freedom from sin. Without that assurance, there would be no hope for any woman, whether or not we have lived behind bars.
(To be continued)
What lessons has God taught you from ministry?