My friend Audrey, who is responsible for me ending up “in jail”, gave me a very precious gift. A gift I have been very grateful for ever since that day when I was about to enter the jail to teach my very first class. Her gift to me was some wise words I have never forgotten.
I was pretty nervous going into the jail that first night. The whole jail environment seems to be designed to be intimidating. Everything is stark, hard, disorienting, and surprisingly loud. I was intimidated about speaking and teaching, wondering if I was doing the right thing. My thoughts were bouncing around in my mind like popcorn in a microwave.
Right before we entered the jail building, Audrey stopped and put her hand on my shoulder and said something to this effect: “I want you to listen to me. Don’t you ever lose sight of the fact that you can’t save these women. You can’t be their Savior. That is a burden you can’t carry. Only Jesus Christ can be their Savior. Your job is to be obedient to God’s calling, be studied up, be prayed up, be prepared, and do your best.”
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
In my head, I “knew” that was true. But Audrey knew that once you are in the thick of things, it can be very easy to lose sight of that truth. I am so thankful that Audrey gave me that powerful reminder that first night, and I try to remind myself of it each time I walk into the jail. I’ve condensed Audrey’s words to a simple five word prayer I try to remember to pray each time I enter the jail: “Lord, make me the dummy.” That might need a little explanation… Every ventriloquist has a dummy. It looks like the dummy is talking, but the voice and the words come from the ventriloquist. I want to be the dummy so God can speak through me, and I don’t get in the way.
After I had been doing jail ministry for a while, one of the Chaplains at the jail shared with me that the statistics for women reveal that for every ten women in jail, nine out of ten will be re-incarcerated within a year of their release. In New Mexico from 1997 to 2004, there was a 930% increase in the number of females incarcerated. Those are staggering statistics that could easily become pretty discouraging to anyone doing ministry in this environment.
It is normal to question yourself, and wonder if you could have done something differently that might have had a bigger impact. That can be healthy and good, but in a ministry like this too much second guessing yourself could lead to emotional and spiritual paralysis. If a person is seeking a ministry where you can boast about your “numbers”, jail ministry is probably not for them!
I now realize that if God uses me as the vessel to only touch one single life through my feeble attempts to declare the truth of Jesus Christ in jail, IT WILL HAVE ALL BEEN WORTH IT.
Luke 15:4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?”