*Names have been changed to protect identities
For the last few weeks, I have been volunteering at the Dallas County Jail. I meet with a group of incarcerated women who long to learn more about Jesus. There is a waiting list to get into the class. And I imagine, it isn’t easy because there are over 1,500 women in the jail and typically, less than ten are allowed in class.
They walk in wearing their prison uniform. Most of them have just rolled off their bunk. Tired, disheveled, and out of sorts they come. Although class doesn’t begin until 8:30, the women are up at 4:30 for breakfast and so it is not surprising for them to go back to sleep. Sleep is a popular escape in jail.
There is no real consistency in who will show up because women are cycling in and out of the jail regularly. I have not seen an average age. There are young women, middle-aged women, and senior women. Yes, senior women. And I am not sure why that shocked me, but it did.
Most of these women have kids, and a few I’ve met are grandmothers. Obviously, this isn’t a residence they should be calling home but sadly, for now, this is the address and where they currently reside. Thick, dark, brick walls. Open showers. No windows. Rigid order. And limited contact with the outside.
I don’t know all the details of their incarceration and don’t really ask. Most involve drugs at some level. Of course, drugs aren’t the only offense. Some have serious charges and won’t be going home anytime soon. Rather, they will be transferring to a prison for a much longer term.
Although I do not ask the ladies why they are there, it does get brought up and we talk about their situations. Jaimie has been battling a horrific heroin addiction. She had been on the lam hiding from an arrest warrant. Tired, scared and worn out, she turned herself in to the police to dry out. Monique is 41. She’s been in and out of jail for 15 years. Ten years ago, she was diagnosed with HIV, a diagnosis that should have scared her straight. Nope. To her, this is just another notch on her belt of failures. Michelle, at 53, just can’t seem to pull her life together. Jail has become a home away from home.
I guess the best way to summarize these women is, broken. Their lives are messy, even chaotic. There is a young woman who has no idea of where home will be upon her release. Another said family has given up on her. And another whose kids don’t want anything to do with her. These are just the small glimpses into the lives of these ladies.
How did they get there? Family, friends, environment… A bad choice here, another there, and just like that, they are living behind bars. I look through the glass into the dorm and there are dozens and dozens of women milling around the jail. They are all lost. They all have a story. They all long to be seen.
A couple weeks ago our topic was Who is Jesus? Living on the western side of the world, I made the ignorant assumption that everyone knows of Jesus. I mean, how can you not know at least a little about the man called teacher, the man called Savior? So, I asked the question believing nobody would raise their hand. “Who doesn’t know about Jesus?” I sat there dumbfounded as two women lifted their hands.
I forgot how exciting it can be to share Christ. I forgot what it felt like to speak of his love for all people. I forgot how powerful it is to share the Gospel to those who don’t know. It was an awesome discussion.
And this week, we talked about the cross. The women eagerly looked up scripture wanting to know more. My heart was leaping at the sound of ruffling bible pages. We journeyed the Romans road together. Several women began to understand. Their eyes were opened. They understood, they were separated from God. And they realized what caused the separation. We talked about sin, our sin nature, and their sin. And then, we talked about the cross. We talked about God’s love for us, an unrelenting love for messed-up people. A love so powerful and strong, so pure and mighty that he lay down his life so that we could live.
We talked about how God knew before they were conceived that they’d be in this place. He knew the choices they would make and the destruction it would cause. He went to the cross knowing that. And even if they were the only people in the world, Jesus would still have taken up his cross and walked the Via Dolorosa to his death.
As we talked about what it means to follow Jesus and what is required of us, Angel stood up. Angel is probably my age, maybe younger. But she wears a face of a woman who has lived a hard life. Tears were pouring down her face. “I want to ask Jesus into my heart,” she began. “I’ve made a mess of my life and I want to surrender. I want him to be in control.”
I had prayed early that morning for those ladies, and I prayed for them on my drive to the jail. I prayed that God would be moving on their hearts, stirring, softening the hardness. But for some reason, I was surprised. Shame on me, I should have known.
We talked more about the scripture and what it meant. She knew exactly what she needed to do. We prayed together and Angel made Jesus Lord of her life. It was beautiful.
I will honest, I have been in ministry my entire life. Being a pastor’s wife, I have had the opportunities to share my faith. I speak, preach, write. I share the Gospel. But this was the first time I really led someone to Christ. This was the first time I walked through the Gospel with another, explaining everything, and praying with them to leave their old life behind and chase after Jesus. Right there, in a dreary, depressing jail, I had the privilege of walking a lost soul to feet of Jesus. What an honor.
I think we forget how many lost souls are walking this earth. They are in our schools and workplaces. They are our neighbors. They are at the gym. They are the servers, and bank tellers. They are the homeless. The patient. The prisoner. The ex-convict. And all of them are in desperate need of Jesus.
Jesus gives us the privilege to share the good news. And as believers our job description requires us to bring the Gospel to the utter most parts of the earth. What does that look like for you? He wants to use you! Be a kingdom changer. Time is running out.