“Raise your hand if you have ever prostituted yourself to survive or to fund a drug addiction.”
I will never forget scanning that prison room where our weekly Bible study was being held to see not one, not some, but every single woman holding a hand up in the air. I will never forget the feeling of having my breath knocked out of me in shock as my throat got tight and I fought back tears. And I will never forget the transcending peace flooding the eyes of those women as they looked around and realized that they were not alone.
From my experience of holding Bible studies in different female prisons and hearing from directors, incarcerated women tend to do one of two things to cope with their circumstances: they isolate, feeling that nobody around them would be understanding, or they pursue homosexuality, something most of them have never touched before, in a last-ditch effort to feel connected with someone. But I’ve also learned that when you bring these women together for the purpose of learning God’s word, Jesus shows up.
I have seen imprisoned women open up to one another with their stories and find heart healing in these groups as they learn that they are not alone or shamefully different as the devil would like them to believe.
One such story that always stands out to me came from an inmate named Susan, who was never properly nurtured or cared for as a child.
She revealed to me that because she had been rejected, she was always searching for love and to be loved.
“One of the ways they [pimps] get us is that they prey on us and see that we will do anything for love. Now, I realize they are pimps, but at the time, I didn’t know that. I thought it was a dream come true and that I had found my prince charming, because a man was finally showing me what seemed like positive attention.”
The remainder of her story is one I have heard a hundred times. A man shows her attention, promising to love her and take care of her. She is led to his hotel room or apartment and is given strong opioids with the promise that they will “enhance” their sexual experience. Before the night is over, she has been violated and is now hooked on the drug, willing to do anything to feed the addiction introduced by her pimp.
You can probably imagine the rest.
Susan was sitting in on that Bible study where she learned that all of her fellow inmates had been prostituted as well, and when the group dismissed, she came to me and told me something that continues to remind me why this ministry is so worth it and so needed. She looked me in the eyes and said,
“I feel cleaner on the inside.”
For these women, many of whom have never been told by a single human being that they are worthy, hearing the truth of the gospel and learning that they have been bought with a price and are loved unconditionally always breaks new ground in their lives. We can’t always see the change right away, but we know that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” so we continue to plant those seeds of truth to combat the lies they have been told throughout their lives.
And it takes time to see women like Susan open up about their stories and ask to learn more about the Bible. But week-by-week, they start to exhale. There is an individual and group shift toward open instead of closed, curious rather than skeptical.
I find that many Christians are hesitant to pursue prison ministry, and I completely understand their concerns. But I hope hearing Susan’s story and knowing that there are countless others like it has implanted a new compassion in you for those who are incarcerated. Just as God often uses various people and incidents to show us truth and pull us back onto his path, many of these women entered their place of hurting not just by one decision they made, but through multiple lying influences working to hurt them over time.
However, God has called each of us to different spheres of influence, so do not feel pressured to enter prison ministry unless you feel the call of God tugging at your heart. Know that there are other ways to help such as donating Bibles and praying for local inmates.
The goal is freedom and our weapon is truth; as Christians, we must set aside our prejudices and fears of those who are imprisoned because inmates are hurting and in desperate need of cleanliness, just like Susan, who finished her Bible study course saying that,
“God is forgiving. He will forgive us for all. All we have to do is ask.”
About the authors
Ann White is an internationally known author, speaker and passionate Bible teacher. She founded her global ministry, Courage For Life, out of a calling to share with others how God and His Word brought restoration to her life and marriage. Its latest launch is the first fully female-voiced NLT Audio Bible App, which is completely free for download.
Kathy Urbanick is ministry director at Courage For Life ministries, and she is passionate about equipping and ministering to at-risk women through Local Missions Ministry at crisis pregnancy centers, local jails and battered women’s shelters.
The Courage For Life Audio Bible App is available for download at https://courageforlife.org/app/.
Photo courtesy: Emiliano Bar/Unsplash