Joy enters the jail, a story of healing

United States (MNN) — There is something precious about meeting with people in need, to hear their stories and offer comfort. It may not be comfortable or easy to shoulder someone else’s burdens in the process, but that act can open the door to a life transformed by joy.

This is what Forgotten Man Ministries experiences in their outreach to county jails throughout Michigan. As we shared yesterday, in one jail they’ve been joined by Set Free Ministries to share a message of freedom and restoration in a “God Pod”.

When Set Free volunteers Jodi Sonksen and Sue Dunn first began working in the jail with Sarah Heaton of Forgotten Man, it was overwhelming. How can there be so much pain?

Sonksen said she believed they would need more women volunteers to take over for them after a few months so they could take a break from it all. But then, after a while, something changed. She says now she never wants to give up her volunteer position on Monday mornings. Why? Because it is awesome to see God working.
As an example, they shared the story of one woman from the jail who we’ll call Glowbug — for privacy, and because that’s what her nickname is. We’ll explain why in a moment.

Heaton shares, “When she first started, her face was pretty flat — she had no smile, no expression, nothing but sadness. She just had a deep, deep sadness in her eyes; never, ever smiled.”

In fact, she was soon kicked out of the program because she wasn’t doing the required homework. After a few months, she was allowed back in.

“When she first came in, she said she was depressed, bitter, angry, selfish, felt abandoned and worthless, and she was so bound up by Satan that she felt she had no hope. And she felt like she was just living in the devils playground,” Heaton says.

She was so burdened by all of these struggles that even before she got to jail, she already felt imprisoned.

“We slowly started working with her and replacing the lies that she believed about herself. Again, the belief that ‘I’m worthless.’”

As we talked about yesterday, in order to accept the truth of the Gospel, lies have to be eradicated. The Steps to Freedom in Christ walks the women through this process to renounce the lies and Satan’s hold on their life. They do this verbally, following it up by saying aloud what God’s Word says instead of the lie.

Heaton says Glowbug would concentrate hard on what she was saying, hands tucked into the opposite arm’s sleeves as she spoke.

“So she would start going through the lies that she’s believed and replacing them with the truth. After about 20, 30 times for some of them, all of the sudden she would go, ‘Oh, I got it!’ And she would stomp her feet and she’s like, ‘There you go, Satan. I got it. I know the truth now!’”

As she worked through the lies, a transformation took place that gave her the nickname.

“Her face just lit up. One of the teachers nicknamed her the Glowbug because she radiated for the Lord. Her face just shone with God’s love,” Heaton says.

Glowbug was beginning to understand that true joy, which comes from knowing Jesus, did not depend on her circumstances.

Heaton says today, you cannot talk to this woman without knowing that she loves Jesus. In fact, every time she sends a text, it’s signed with, ‘Jesus loves me!!!”

They shared a bit more of Glowbug’s testimony in her own words:

“God is beyond amazing. [With] Him, nothing is impossible. I praise Him everyday. My Heavenly Father is a faithful, loving, compassionate, merciful protector, and trustworthy. He has blessed me in so, so many ways. I can’t wait to tell more people about Him. God has opened so many doors for me. I’ve experienced so many good opportunities being in jail, like hearing God’s voice, loud and clear. Peace beyond my understanding. I got to be part of my best friend accepting Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. I got to become closer to God and get past the things that happened to me that was eating me up inside and out. Now I am free. Jesus has set me free, because I surrendered 100 percent and I let Jesus heal me. My body is now the temple of the Holy Spirit.”
Growing in the Lord
Glowbug isn’t the only one who’s been transformed, even if she happened to light up the room brighter than any of the other women. God is doing great things in this ministry.

Two weeks ago, another woman gave her life to Christ. Then, she applied to take part in the year-long Teen Challenge program. She just learned she’s been accepted and now has a support plan for when she gets released.

Sonksen says, “One of the things that I think touches all of our hearts is when the girls [are] in the God Pod, they start praying for each other, they start sharing their faith, they start sharing what they’re learning in the Word of God with their bunkies.”

And as they are growing, they’re making an impact outside of the class as well.

“They’re evangelizing to the different people in the jail, and people want what they have.” Heaton says, “They can’t figure out how they can be in jail and be happy. It’s a very common statement that ‘jail is the best place I’ve ever been’ when they’re going through this program. They don’t start out that way.”

Dunn shares the recent example of a newcomer to the class. Near the end of the session, they played some praise music for the women to listen and sing along to. Dunn noticed a woman who had tears coming down her face. She asked her why, and the woman said she couldn’t understand why everyone was smiling with joy. Please pray for this woman to come to understand freedom from her own struggles as she learns more about Jesus.

Dunn says, “There really is proof in that room that Christ is working and healing and restoring. And so when a newcomer comes in, it’s very evident to her.”

And as the newcomers come, this team is prepared to sit with them as they shed tears. Heaton often shares Psalm 56:8 with them:

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?

She says, “Tears can be healing, and there’s a purpose in all of this, and God doesn’t take it lightly.”
How to contribute
So, if you’ve been inspired by the stories coming out of this jail ministry, would you consider getting involved? At Mission Network News, we share ways you can pray, give, and go as part of the Great Commission. Set Free calls it the time, treasure, and talent principle. If you can’t participate in one way, consider another.

Dunn says you can start by taking time to pray: “We do not underestimate the prayer support that goes into this ministry. Typically, for the appointments that are held at Set Free, a note is sent out with the different appointments during the week.”

There is a huge group of people who take the time to pray during each freedom appointment. There are also people praying with Forgotten Man Ministries as they receive prayer requests. If you’d like to volunteer for prayer, learn more here.

Financially, you can help support the variety of projects Set Free is involved with here.

If you’re interested in volunteering, there are a couple of things you should know. First of all, every volunteer must go through a freedom appointment to deal with their own baggage before you start helping others. Then, you’ll have a day of training and begin sitting in on appointments for a while. For more information, click here.

To learn more about Forgotten Man Ministries and how to walk alongside them, click here.