At 77 years young, my mother goes by herself into a Nashville women’s prison every week. While home for a visit recently, she took me with her. She armed herself with several things: Bibles, a stack of slightly used paperback devotional books, which she acquires from anyone who save them for her, and a Bible study lesson she wrote herself. We were ready to go.
After ten years in this particular facility, the people know her well. After going through security, we walked through a series of hallways and many heavy electronically locked doors until we arrived in the multi-purpose room. It was a cool room with cinderblock walls, a cement floor and plastic chairs. She banged on the window. The Correctional Officer yelled out “BIBLE STUDY”, and the inmates started coming.
Some of the ladies knew her well, others she met for the first time. Some ladies brought their Bibles and were well familiar with them, others were not. Some were chatty and spoke about what God was doing in their lives, some never said a word. Some she’ll see back again, some she’ll never see again.
One thing they had in common: they listened attentively and hung on her every word. One lady leaned over to me and with a smile said, “I love Miss Lyn. I‘ve learned so much from her.” She started by distributing New Testaments, devotional materials, paperback puzzle books and pens. To say they were grateful to receive even one of these items is an understatement. The lesson was on the parables in Luke 15. It concentrated on the prodigal son. The Bible study was easy enough for newcomers to understand, yet it was meaty enough for those more mature in their faith. Discussion questions helped the ladies apply the lesson to their own lives. The Gospel was shared and I was asked to lead them in a prayer to accept Christ.
There are now more than 100,000 women behind bars in America. One third are incarcerated for drug offenses. The female prison population is increasing at double the rate of men. Many of these women struggle with substance abuse, mental illness, and histories of physical and sexual abuse. The toll on women, girls, and their families is devastating. I believe one of the reasons my mother has so much success is due to the fact that she sees these women as real people.
Another way she reaches these women is by giving them a copy of the book Redeeming Love. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is a historical romance novel set in the 1850s Gold Rush in California. The story is inspired by the book of Hosea from the Bible. Its central theme is the redeeming love of God towards sinners. My mother has distributed so many copies of this book she has lost count. She brings one every week and asks God who to give it to that day. The inmates love the book as it shows them that God loves them and there is hope. He desires to redeem regardless of the situation and sinful past.
My parents were introduced to prison ministry 30 years ago. Only God knows the profound affect their efforts have made over the years. Hats off to Mom and the countless others who minister in prisons. In the book of Matthew, Jesus said to those on His right, those blessed of His Father, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… for I was in prison and you came to Me…to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”