WM Series: Far Beyond Prison Walls Intro | Women

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WM Series: Far Beyond Prison Walls Intro

Prison walls
Posted June 9, 2017

In 2005 - after suffering from cancer for six months - my husband of 38 years passed away. It was shortly following this that I was invited to join our church's prison ministry team for the first time.

Out of my comfort zone and not knowing too much about what it entailed - I found myself agreeing to sign up.

The following Sunday, I set off with our team of six for my first ever entry into the prison system.

We arrived in the carpark of the prison. Our team gathered together beside the cars for prayer - and then headed toward a high, razorwired fence and gate that marked the entry to the prison itself. Identifying ourselves into the intercom, a hidden figure somewhere inside the walls released the gate.

We were in!

As the gate shuddered shut behind us, we approached another locked door which only got us as far as the check-in desk. After each being searched, the officer was satisfied we weren't concealing contraband - and we were escorted through another six locked doors and gates before we finally arrived at the prison chapel.

Hope in a hopeless place

Each visit, I was told, our team of Christians were allocated two one hour services. Before long our first group of men arrived. 

We stood and welcomed them with a handshake and a smile (as the years wore on this formal welcome turned to a hug, as I would get to know the inmates). We opened in prayer, sang a few songs and then took turns presenting our talks about the hope of Jesus Christ.

The first day I was there I shared the story of my husband and I.

We had had what you could call a 'stormy' marriage. He had not long passed - and this act of sharing was not out of disloyalty but faithfulness. He had asked me to find people to tell the testimony of God's restoration in our troubled marriage.

While my husband could sometimes be very loving, he had also spent his life living for horses, gambling and being controlled by intense anger. In his rages, he could become verbally abusive and sometimes even violent.

And yet, three months before he died, he gave his life to Jesus. 

As scripture tells - 'he became a new creature in Christ'.

Praise the Lord! This was no small thing! We were finally - 38 years later - at last able to sit and talk without it turning to custard! During these precious times and chats, he urged me to share our story. Anything, anything to try and help even a single person avoid what we had gone through.

And what better place to start than prison?

The danger of anger

This first hand experience meant I could relate with a lot of the men around their angry behaviour and their 'why's'... I knew too well the fine line between extreme anger and action. I had experienced how crossing that line quickly and easily brought about death and consequences to the person who is sinned against, and the one who commits the crime.

I had on occasion feared for my own life.

That fear is not something you imagine - you can actually taste it.

Sometimes the trigger is set so delicately, it only takes one word or a look to bring about that fatal action... then it is too late. Even the deepest remorse cannot fix things. Never doubt the dreadful consequences, that can arise from anger - a small word, but so powerful. Lives can be shattered forever when anger takes hold - no wonder it is only one letter off danger.

In the time I spent with these inmates, I learnt so much.

I learnt about childhood abuse and the terrible scars it leaves. I learnt to be tolerant and to not be so quick to judge. I learnt to be understanding of other people's views and experiences.

I learnt that although these men were heavily tattooed, imprisoned and different to me - that that shouldn't intimidate me or stop me from loving them and seeing them as children of God. I have to say it has been a humbling journey. I see that these men are hungry for Christ and the freedom he brings.

"I learnt that although these men were heavily tattooed, imprisoned and different to me - that that shouldn't need to intimidate me or stop me from loving them and seeing them as children of God."

Quiet my soul

When we would first come into the chapel, there would be a little unrest and disturbance from some of the men - usually very young guys just trying us out. But we found that as these incarcerated, restless inmates found that not only were these Christians interesting and had lots of life experiences but were also real and genuine - the mood would change. It soon became very quiet in the room. 

You could have heard a pin drop in some of our services, as the men became aware that we were interested in who they were, and wanted to grow real and authentic relationship and love as we shared the gospel of Christ.

In the first few years, we enjoyed the expertise of the Alpha Band - a group in a Christian-based unit. These men had put together their musical talents - song writing, singing and playing - and had the use of some instruments that the prison system had provided through public funding.

Music was such a holistic part of restoration, and these men really led us into worship in a powerful way... more so than I had ever experienced before.

Guess what? I felt so at home here! it was hard to explain... people used to ask me why on earth I wanted to be in such a place! And I didn't really used to know how to answer, but quite simply... it is because the Lord placed me there. We have an awesome God and I will always praise him for the ten plus years He gave me in the prisons and with the men.

Far Beyond Prison Walls series

Far Beyond Prison Walls is my three part series where I will further explore the highlight of my time in prison ministry - changed lives, personal witnessing and even the Lord's work through my extensive letter-writing ministry - where I wrote to around 40 inmates and saw Jesus perform some wonderful acts of grace and mission!

Some of these stories will no doubt open many eyes to the wonder of God as he moves among the prisoners of Aotearoa. He is powerful and mighty to act - and I can't wait to share with you each.

In the meantime, take care as you walk daily with Jesus and honour him in all you do.

Blessings, Betty T.