Never in my life did I imagine I would be line dancing to the Cupid Shuffle in a prison courtyard surrounded by barbed wire and 590 inmates.
But this unreal situation is where I found myself one weekend last month. Thankfully this was a voluntary trip with the Bill Glass Weekend of Champions, a prison ministry that has been active for over 50 years. Women from all over the country, including three other interns from The City Mission, had signed up to share the gospel with those incarcerated in the Cleveland Northeast Pre-Release Center.
I’d never participated in prison ministry before and I was nervous. I’m only nineteen years old and I’ve lived in a suburb’s suburb my entire life prior to this summer. What would I have to offer women who had seen and been through so much more than me?
When we pulled up to the towering chain link fence my fellow interns and I were quickly buzzed in to join our group. It was explained that the next two days would be identical: sit with the women and listen to the Bill Glass platform speakers and then simply speak with them about what we had just heard and where they were in their walk of faith.
Walking into the courtyard was intimidating. I had no idea who to speak with first, so naturally I walked up to a woman with a puppy. It turned out that she had been a professor at a prominent college when she was incarcerated for drunk driving. I was surprised by how she automatically launched into the moment that brought her there. The puppy was part of a seeing-eye dog training program.
Over the two days I listened to women tell me their entire life stories. I was amazed by how willing they were to share their journeys and hopes with me, and also how similar they were to me, my friends and family. Every woman could have been my sister, roommate or someone I knew from high school. Most had a family and children they wanted to get back to and do better for, and several were seeking the Lord. I was able to encourage women, no matter where they were with their faith, to actively pursue a relationship with God – not simply make it a religious activity. And the best part of that was that my words were not my own.
I was not straining for questions or responses or compassion. Instead I was able to be used by God simply as a listener; someone who asked these women to think about the changes they would make in life in order for things to be different after their release. The Lord allowed me to forget about myself and what I would say next for two days, which is something I struggle with constantly. Being young is not a problem if relying on God for wisdom is your solution.
It was difficult saying goodbye on Saturday night. We sang together and embraced those we connected with in that short time. It is strange making such a strong connection with someone and then realizing that you will probably never see them again. A few of the women I met have been on my heart daily since that weekend, and I pray that though I may not see them in this world, we will dance together again in heaven.