Jail ministry shares a message of healing

United States (MNN) — For about a year now, Forgotten Man Ministries and Set Free Ministries have joined together to meet with women in a county jail in West Michigan. When the women sign up for the class, they’re usually just looking for something to break up their time behind bars. They come in with hard demeanors and blank faces. But over time, their facial expressions are transformed from broken and bitter to hopeful.

The classes are held for two-hour periods once a week. When Set Free Ministries takes counselees through the Steps to Freedom in Christ at their office, it typically takes one to two sessions total. But in the jail setting, the pace is much slower. They let the group spend as much time as they want on one step as they work through questions and discuss them thoroughly.

After the main discussion time each week, counselors meet with the women one-on-one with music playing so there can be some privacy in their discussions.
Replacing lies with truth
Previously, we talked about the struggles many of the women in jail are wrestling with. Their burdens are typically a result of a series of lies they’ve held onto — much of it surrounding how they view themselves.

Jodi Sonksen of Set Free says, “It’s just so amazing to us that these girls can forgive the fathers and uncles and brothers who’ve sexually molested them. They can forgive husbands who’ve been unfaithful. They can forgive their pimps. The person that they cannot forgive is themselves. They don’t feel worthy, they absolutely despise themselves. And so if you can’t forgive yourself, they really cannot comprehend a God who loves them.”

To dismantle these lies, honest conversation must take place in a safe, non-judgmental environment. The loving care Heaton, Dunn, and Sonksen show is the first step to destroying the belief that they are unlovable.

Sarah Heaton, female chaplain with Forgotten Man Ministries says, “One thing is helping people understand that their sin of lying is no greater and no less than someone’s sin of prostitution. That the person shooting up heroin in their arm is no less than the person putting an extra donut in their mouth. Sin is sin, is sin, is sin. No matter what form, no matter what way, in God’s eyes, sin is sin.”

When they can break free from how the world defines them, these women can begin to accept that God’s love is for them, too.
Healing from the Gospel
The Steps of Freedom come directly from Scripture and are dependent on the Gospel message.

Dunn explains, “We always start our class time or our one-on-one time with the conversation about, have they accepted Christ as their savior. If that piece is not there, which is a big piece, then all the steps don’t matter. We can teach them a lot of truths, and we can teach them facts, and we can show them Bible verses. If they don’t have a personal relationship, that’s just head knowledge.”

It is the Gospel, not facts, that brings healing to the heart and transformation to our lives.

“There is hope, there is healing, there is restoring of what has been taken from them, but it has to be their choice and their surrender,” she says.
Relating to the broken
When asked if they had difficulty relating to these women they work with, Dunn, Heaton, and Sonksen all said no, despite their various backgrounds.

Heaton explains that she actually has a similar background to many of the women here.

“I’ve been in their shoes in just about every way,” she says. Because of this, she can relate to them from that level.

The other two, however, have not dealt with the same struggles. Despite this, there is common ground that must be established in order for the counseling to be effective.

Dunn says, “I relate to them, as we both are sinners. Life can be tough, and if it weren’t for Jesus, we would walk around prisoners in jail or out of jail.”

The fact that her sins can’t get her imprisoned in the United States, she explains, only means that they may be harder to spot and probably much harder to eradicate from her life. All sin creates spiritual bondage.
While relating to the women might not be difficult, there are some challenges this team faces. The Set Free-Forgotten Man team has a limited time with each of the women, and there’s no telling just how long that will be.

Dunn says, “There’s a big turnover. Some people get out relatively soon. Some people are sent to prison. Some people might be there for a few months. So you do start to develop a relationship with them. And you begin to have trust built, and you can get to the root of some of their challenges and difficulties.”

All of the women are highly encouraged to visit Set Free Ministries for an appointment once they are released, and they are encouraged to keep in contact.

“The vast majority commit to that, the lesser majority follow through with that,” Dunn explains.

Sonksen continues that thought, saying, “Often our hearts are broken because someone who you thought you saw changes in their heart and on their face, on their countenance, and then you hear via the grapevine that they’re back out on the streets doing drugs and prostitution.”

Much of the difficulty lies with the existing support group the women have. Not only do the majority of women have a painful past, but they also have been surrounded by drug dealers, friends and family who do drugs, and other poor influences.

“So when they’re released, who’s waiting for them at the exit are their drug dealers, their friends that use drugs, and their pimps.”
Trusting in God’s plan
Despite the sad stories, all three women continue their ministry, knowing they have to surrender the end result to God.

Dunn says “We pray for and want to see them live in freedom and to see bondage broken and lies replaced with truth. So the challenge comes to just knowing God’s in charge and trusting Him to do His work with the seeds that are planted.”

Heaton, who works with the inmates daily, says she has learned to trust in God’s control in the situation. All they can do is build into their lives.

“That’s really our whole goal, is to teach them the truth because the Holy Spirit’s going to work with them and in them when they’re in jail and when they get out.”

They are planting seeds and trusting in someone else to water them down the line. As Heaton says, God’s Word does not and will not return void.

Tomorrow, we’re going to share a story about a woman who’s life was changed after she went through the “God Pod” ministry with Forgotten Man Ministries and Set Free Ministries.