The first prison Bible study that Rachel’s House did at the Franklin Medical Center was 10 years ago. I co-taught this study with a 75 year old woman named Mary who would drive 45 minutes each way, and each Friday night we would all meet. There were times where only one other woman would join us, but we continued coming. This specific prison was special because it was one of the designated locations that held pregnant women. And as our group grew, we got to call some of those women friends and walk with them through their pregnancies.
My heart would break with them as they would have their babies, come back to the facility, and weep during our group as they had just given them over to caregivers and guardians until their sentence was completed.
When giving birth during incarceration, the women would have just two days with their newborn before being separated. There was one specific woman who was a faithful attendee that we got to know throughout her pregnancy who experienced this. One week she returned weeping, as she had just had her baby and soon after been separated. There is no sound or sight more grueling than a new mom separated from her baby. She just sat at the table and wept for nearly the entire hour and 20 minutes. It was during those moments where the verses about mourning with those who mourn came alive to me.
It was a sacred space.
This woman was eventually released, and for nine years we lost touch. But two days ago, I had a message that she had called our office number. I was able to get in touch with her yesterday! She is doing well, is in the process of starting her own cleaning business, and her baby is 9! She sent pictures of her two kids and my heart swelled with joy hearing about her life and how well she and her family are doing. She said that she had been thinking of us and went online to try and find a number to reach out. Thank the Lord for the internet! This story reminds of the hope in good things to come referenced in Romans 10:14-15. This passage was shared with me by a woman from the beginning of our Bible studies at the prison and it says “But how can people call on him for help if they’ve not yet believed? And how can they believe in one they’ve not yet heard of? And how can they hear the message of life if there is no one there to proclaim it? And how can the message be proclaimed if messengers have yet to be sent? That’s why the Scriptures say: How welcome is the arrival of those proclaiming the joyful news of peace and of good things to come!" I am so thankful she called.
There’s been another hopeful instance within the prison Bible study this past week that also brings this Romans passage to life! On Thursday, our study at the main women's prison, Ohio Reformatory for Women, has a larger group of women that are growing and desiring greater depth in our studies. So we have been talking about the humanity of Jesus and this past week was centered specifically on His crucifixion. My Bible study partner took all four Gospel accounts and wove them together into a narrative story and read it aloud for them. After reading it, she paused and asked the women what stood out to them as they were following along.
The woman next to me leaned way back in her chair and then said with awestruck wonder in her voice, "Wow! I have never heard that story before!"
At this point, I nearly fell out of my chair. The Romans passage came flooding back to me! How will they know unless they are told?
My commutes home from these types of mornings often look like catching up on calls or turning on the radio, but after leaving this study I just rode back in the silence of awestruck wonder and joy of being called to be a messenger of the Good News.