Prisoners, specifically women prisoners, are largely forgotten. The spiritual state of incarcerated individuals is not among the day-to-day thoughts of most Christians.
In working with a prison ministry in Paducah, Ky., I learn about various inmates from all walks of life, often through the prayer requests they pen weekly. Many of their stories are tragic; sometimes I see that an inmate is no older than my 22 years.
I grew up in a Christian home, with a Christian education continuing into my college years. Although my life was far from perfect, I received love and nurture in abundance. When I consider the person I have become today, I am fully aware of the faith that was birthed and nurtured amid my surroundings.
At the same time, I can tell from the inmates' prayer requests and from volunteers' ministry reports that these women often are the product of their upbringing. So many of them have been abused, unsheltered and forgotten by those who should have nurtured them. Sometimes, I wonder how I would have turned out had their lives been mine. Of course, this stands as no excuse for whatever actions landed them behind bars. Nevertheless, their heart-wrenching pasts are sobering.
This ministry's sole purpose is to lead these forgotten souls to Christ, working primarily with inmates in two women's prisons and with women and men in the McCracken County Regional Jail in Paducah. Each week, volunteers conduct worship and teach a scriptural lesson. What could be boring paperwork received at our office yields the life stories of these women, helping staff and volunteers to understand the situations they are in and, often, their brokenness before the Lord.
Intercession & praise
"Please pray for my family and also for each and every one here and their families, including all the inmates and staff," one woman inmate writes. "I give praise to God for opening doors for to come and teach us about God."
Sometimes the prayer requests we receive are just a line or two. Other times, they are paragraph-long heartfelt prayers from broken lives. Their situations are so bleak and sentences so long, but what makes these prayers stand out in my mind is gratitude. In a place where not one individual on the outside could imagine being thankful, they pour out praise.
I often wonder if I were in their place, if my prayers would consist of pleading with the Lord for a hurried release, or if they would be the unselfish offerings of praise that so many of these individuals write.
Prayers for family
Another moving aspect of the inmates' prayers is their concern for the families they left behind.
"I ask that you pray for my children and their caregivers," one female prisoner writes. "Pray that my children are being taught God's word and are safe...." Again, these women have next to nothing, but they share their heart to the Lord for those whom they care about.
Working with this ministry has impacted my life in many ways. Most importantly, it has challenged me. When I start to take for granted the things that the Lord has kept me from, I think of where I could be if my circumstances had been different.
The prayer requests and paperwork that I see on a weekly basis inspire me to be more thankful, caring and soul-conscious. The blessings in my life are constant reminders of Christ's extended grace to me on a daily basis. In light of this, I am stirred to be more apt to reach out to those in need of that same grace -- in this case, incarcerated individuals.
Above all, pray
One of the simplest ways to reach out to these inmates -- and to the inmates in your community -- is to pray for them.
Pray for their families. Reach out to them in love.
Whatever the reason for their incarceration, they are hurting souls. Praying for the inmates themselves and for the volunteers who work with them is an encouragement not only to those in our prayers, but also to the one who is praying.
Myriah Snyder is a senior at Mid-Continent University in Mayfield, Ky.
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