United States (MNN) – Prayer is a key component of ministry. That is evident when you look at groups like Set Free Ministries. This story isn’t just about prayer, however. It’s also about partnership and compassion, and it takes place in a county jail.
Sarah Heaton is a female chaplain at Forgotten Man Ministries—an organization that is working with men and women in thirty-five county jails across the state of Michigan. They hold voluntary classes called “God Pods” with inmates. Their mission statement as stated on their website is “To follow in Christ’s footsteps by bringing the healing powers of the Great Physician to those incarcerated in Michigan’s county jails.”
A few years ago when Heaton was volunteering at Forgotten Man, she had a freedom appointment at Set Free Ministries. This is a counseling session that takes those being counseled through the Steps to Freedom in Christ.
She says, “I started at the jail years back and went through my own freedom appointment at Set Free and it made such a big difference in my life, I could see that we really needed it in the jails. And so, we started praying about it, and got a big group of people to pray.”
After a couple of years of continuous commitment to prayer, Forgotten Man was able to bring Set Free in with them at the Kent County jail, first to minister to the men and then about a year ago they began working with the women, too.
Every Monday morning Heaton is joined by Sue Dunn and Jodi Sonksen, volunteers at Set Free, to meet with about a dozen women. In this setting, they let their walls down and engage in heart-to-heart conversation. It’s real, and it’s vulnerable, but in this setting the women feel comfortable opening up about their pasts. Their pasts, as Heaton explains, are filled with pain and bondage.
“I would say probably 90% of them were molested as children. Probably 90% of them have drug issues. Probably about 75% were involved in prostitution. Most of them don’t know who their heavenly Father is, and so the term “daddy” does not mean the same thing to them as it does to somebody else.”
Both Dunn and Sonksen agree that the women are coming from totally broken backgrounds which are often rooted in painful, unstable childhoods.
Dunn says that when you get to hear their stories, God gives you compassion for them.
“They have so much pain in their life, they’re trying to find relief from it. So they’re looking to the things the world has to offer,” she says.
Heaton says this is why people often turn to drugs. They want to be able to control what they feel—to be able to turn off the bad and feel something good. Unfortunately this eventually leaves them spiraling out of control. But when they end up in jail, it’s actually a good thing, even if they don’t see it that way at first. It means the spiraling has stopped for a moment.
The lies these women believe are many, and cripple their ability to heal. Heaton, Dunn, and Sonksen shared some of the more common lies they hear.
One is that they are worthless and cannot be forgiven. They cannot comprehend that they have a heavenly Father who loves them. And even if they believe they do and accept Christ, many women continue to believe they are second-class Christians, and that their prayers aren’t heard.
Another lie is that their sin is worse than any other sin and that they are worse people than anyone else. They might believe they are forever broken and that everyone has given up on them – but God has not.
And so, the Forgotten Man and Set Free trio must meticulously weed out these lies with each woman individually and replace them with truths.
The truths are all grounded in the Gospel, and they are shared from a foundation of trust, honesty, and openness to talk about anything and everything.
Sonksen says when the women in that “God Pod” understand they can speak without condemnation from the three volunteers, they really can get down to the deeper issues.
She says, “if they can see unconditional love in us, then maybe they can dare to believe that God loves them.”
Check back in tomorrow and we’ll share more about how these classes work, the challenges they pose, and the transformation that is taking place.