|Multiple security doors separate prisoners from the outside world.|
"I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."--Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:37)
Alice C. Linsley
There are 14 women in the Saturday afternoon Bible study at the local prison. This is not a Bible study in the traditional sense. Only a few even bring a Bible. Instead we discuss what the Bible has to say about life issues. The women want to talk about anger, forgiveness, addiction, abuse, and guilt. They also want to hear about salvation, healing, God’s provision for them and the gift of eternal life.
As a Biblical anthropologist, I tend to be scholarly in my approach to the Biblical text. Maybe that is why God opened this prison ministry to me. This brings me balance and reminds me of what really matters. The women in prison want something to carry them through the week; something to remind them that God cares about them and can be trusted.
We keep it basic. We keep it real. They share their experiences of God’s presence in tragic circumstances and in emergency rooms where they were taken when they overdosed on drugs. They understand that the Bible is not the only way that God communicates. Many have never read the Bible and some have had bad experiences in churches. We are learning to hear God’s voice in non-Biblical terms, but always in terms consistent with Biblical revelation and doctrine.
None of the women has ever asked about Darwin or the age of the Earth. None has asked about the extent of Noah’s flood and the geological record. These issues don’t seem to matter. Their need for God is basic to being human. They want to know why God delays in answering their prayers. They want to hear about something good and hopeful in the midst of their suffering. Why didn’t God stop my father from abusing me? Why couldn’t I say goodbye to my mother before she died? Where was God when my boyfriend attacked me? Can I trust God to take care of me when I get out of prison?
Sometimes I share a tidbit from science. Once it was about how Nineveh was discovered and found to be as great a city as described in the book of Jonah. Another time I shared how analysis of the Biblical kinship records show that Jesus was a descendant of Ruth, a near-homeless woman who loved her aging mother-in-law so much she stayed by her side. The African American women are interested in knowing about Abraham’s Kushite ancestors. A few have asked whether or not God made some people homosexual.
Each time I go to the prison I learn about the Bible from these women and I realize that the big debates that take place in scientific circles really are not big in the grander scope of things. For a person serving time, billions of years or 10,000 years are far less important that the number of days they have left to serve their prison term. Whether God created in six 24-hour days or through a long gradual process of evolution means little to someone yearning for God to create in them a new and contrite heart.
Please pray for this prison ministry which meets on the third Saturday of each month.
Related reading: Haunting Pictures of Women Prisoners