A prison minister was the last thing I'd ever thought of being. For four years, my husband and I had been volunteer workers for the South New Zealand Conference and had been caring for a small church when the call came for my husband to enter "prison ministry." I breathed a sigh of relief; I'm not cut out to be a preacher's wife. I envisioned a new life where I would have plenty of time to do whatever I wanted and lots more time to visit with friends.
However, my dream was short-lived. Within days of the call, our conference president handed me a letter from an inmate of the local women's prison. The prisoner was requesting a visit from an Adventist minister.
Prison ministry—the very thought of it filled me with foreboding and brought up visions of dark corridors, clanging metal gates, and grim-faced guards!
I was reluctant and felt a little like Jonah must have felt. My constant prayer was, "Lord, if working in the prison is where you want me, and You have a work for me to do, then please give me a love for it.
I started visiting the women's prison one day a week—first befriending the women I met, then giving them Bible studies.
Female prisoners have a special need to confess everything to someone they can trust, so I learned the value of being a good listener. Although some of their crimes were horrific, I could not show disapproval or be judgmental. I would simply try to point them to God's love and forgiveness.
Twice a month, I would accompany my husband on his prison visits. I was very apprehensive at first, but the men were very grateful and said that they appreciated a mother's understanding.
Prisoners are often afraid of their family's reaction upon release, so we would often visit spouses to encourage reconciliation. Occasionally we provided clothing, household linens, and food. We always placed cards for Bible correspondence courses in those parcels. We often invited the family to a special church program or the children to the nearest Sabbath School.
As well as caring for the physical and emotional needs of families, we have also, at times, been called on to speak before parole boards. We've had prisoners paroled into our care until we could find them suitable alternative accommodations. When placing them in accommodations, we have always seen that they had warm bedding, clothing, kitchen utensils, and a food parcel.
Not all our experiences have been success stories though. I remember the hurt and disappointment when we returned home one day to find that a prisoner we had taken in and helped considerably had returned and robbed us. However, the success stories of changed lives and commitments to Jesus Christ far outweigh the sad times. Despite my initial misgivings, I've received a lot of satisfaction and fulfillment from prison work.