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The numbers of incarcerated women have increased by 700 percent in the last 30 years. That’s eight times higher than in 1980 and 50 percent higher than the rates of incarcerated men. And more than 60 percent of these women have at least one child under the age of 18, being cared for by a relative or by foster parents.

One of these women is in our local jail, on her way to a correctional facility in the valley. When she talks to her seven-year-old son on the phone, he’s angry because she can’t come home. With an absent father and a mommy in prison, take one guess at where he’ll end up someday.

(Names have been changed.)

Rhonda came into the room and sat, and started talking. Several of them were in lockdown that week… her breath catching, having cried long and hard. Few of the girls were getting along; she was frustrated, scared, feeling alone, and weary of this life. Her hair is gray and her smile reveals gaps where teeth should be. Her dad was a music minister. Her kids and grandkids live in the Midwest. And her attorney doesn’t tell her much.

Last month I asked if they’d be willing to share… Think back to the day when your life turned the wrong way and led you here. What would you do differently?

Rhonda knew. The day I moved in with Stan. People told me I shouldn’t. But I did anyway. And that’s where I went wrong.

This type of ministry doesn’t produce much fruit, and seeing the same faces, hearing the same stories, gets discouraging. But how many times do I make the wrong decision when I know better? Romans 7.

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For those reading this who know me well, you understand this isn’t a cry for sympathy. This is just my heart crying for lives that are so close to ruin. Not everyone is called to this, but in reading, maybe you’ll be stirred to pray more for the young people and broken families within our own neighborhoods… and to reach out in some way to show God’s love.

The reality for so many in our culture is, they’ve been swept into a river with a current stronger than they perceived. Some jumped in because it looked cool, but others got pulled in by their own family members, from the basic need for acceptance and love, or from a desire to escape.

In jail ministry, I stand near the bottom of the river, reaching out for those who quickly approach the drop-off. They’ve been bruised and battered by rocks and tree branches in the way, and they’re half drowned. A few of them no longer know what’s good for them, and they get washed over the edge to fall on the rocks below.

I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. – Matthew 25

I don’t do this for the results. Not for the reward. Not for anything but the desire to tell women the truth about life, about God, about love, about what real acceptance looks and feels like.

And I do this from a desire to obey. We have a call to Go – to teach, to proclaim the Good News, to make disciples – wherever and however there’s opportunity.

And from a desire to rescue as many women as possible from the enemy’s grip. So many of these women grew up in broken homes or were foster kids when they were young. So many of their parents weren’t there for them. And it breaks my heart.

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On Sunday nights on the other side of steel doors and cement block walls, the Gospel is shared, His story told, salvation offered, and darkness is penetrated by Light, by Hope and by the offer of Pardon.

Imagine the governor coming to your cell block and offering to take your place. Granting full pardon. That’s what Jesus did, for your salvation and eternal destiny, I tell them. What will you say? How would you respond?

I could have been in their place. Hungry for love and affirmation, feeling unwanted, unworthy. I tell them bits and pieces of my life. The only difference is, I believed. I received. I keep moving forward. And every morning I make the choice to keep believing.

All those rules in the Bible are there for our protection. They’re good for us. And if I can do this, you can, too. If God can love an obscure, awkward girl like me and pour blessing on this life, He can do the same for you. Just think of the people you’ll be able to reach who I never will. God wants to bless you and partner with you to save other lives and to give you every good thing for now and eternity.

But the enemy doesn’t want them to know that God is good, that His ways are good. And that He really does love them. Really.

If only I’d known these things five years ago, had known someone who really cared about me back then, before I took the wrong turn… one of them told me.

In communicating with girls on the inside, sometimes they write back.

Dear Debbie,

I am grateful that I have met you. Thank you for seeing a potential I, at times, don’t feel like I have. I found a good bible verse right after receiving your letter, Deuteronomy 28. I hope you find it as uplifting as I did after reading it. Thank you for praying for me, I really do appreciate it. I pray they send me to a good program… Thank you for helping me hear the voice of God. I will see you Sunday.

Sincerely, Allison

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Even for those I’ll never see again or will see too many times in the same circumstance, at least they can look back to their time on the inside and know that a handful of women in our town cared for their souls. That somebody showed up every week and told them the truth, urging them to follow God and receive Jesus, and offering friendship, support and genuine release.

Bottom line, I do this because I see the battle going on in the spiritual realm. The enemy’s tactics are bolder and stronger as his time runs short. He seeks to kill and destroy, to choke and suffocate the life, the intelligence, the opportunities and potential given to every human by our Creator and Savior.

Okay, maybe I do this a little bit, because of the mom in me.

Or because I’ve learned that frontline ministry means sometimes we take church to those who can’t get there, or won’t go there for whatever reason. Because where two or three are gathered in His name, there Jesus is in the midst.

And maybe I do this, because I’m tired of watching men and women and young people fall on the battlefield for souls, when victory lies so close.

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