Charlene A. Ferniz, an active member of First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, knows the struggle of becoming a returning citizen all too well.
After reading the recent article “Doing missions behind bars” in The Alabama Baptist (TAB), Ferniz shared her story with TAB.
“The Church needs to be in the prisons,” Ferniz said. “I know the impact that the Church has had on my life since I re-entered society.”
After being arrested for a crime she admittedly committed in 2010, Ferniz said she began reading the Bible for the first time. She also started attending Bible studies and met three women who came to the county jail — where she resided as she awaited trial — every Tuesday.
“They were called ‘church ladies,’” Ferniz said. “I grew up in the Catholic Church so I knew who God was but had no idea that I could have a personal relationship with Him. Or that God would even want a relationship with me.
“The more I read the more I wanted to know,” she noted.
Ferniz’s sentencing finally came down and she was transferred to Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka for three months to complete her sentence. She continued her Bible reading while there.
And when her sentence was completed, she returned to Tuscaloosa and reached out to “those church ladies,” she said. “They helped me with my immediate needs but more importantly they got me plugged into a church.
“These ladies are members of First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, and so am I,” Ferniz said. “It is in this church I found unconditional love and acceptance. I found joy and peace above all understanding. No one asked questions. FBC became my rock, my beacon during dark times.”
Not only did Ferniz find Christ and a church family to help her transition back into society, but she also gives back by being part of the Kairos of Alabama Prison Ministry team and helps with ministries at the Federal Correctional Institution (for women) in Aliceville.
Turning prisons into missions fields
Is Ferniz’s story one that could be repeated over and over again if churches determined to see the closest prison facility or jail closest to them as a missions field?
Could the state’s prison system crisis be exactly what Alabama Baptist churches need to bolster relevancy within society and discipleship efforts among believers?
TAB staff is working to determine what the possibilities might be and will be developing content and providing resources during the next few weeks.
What are your suggestions?
Staff members would like to know about your prison ministry efforts as well as suggestions of inmates, returned citizens and prison ministry volunteers who would be an inspiration for readers to know. We also want to know your concerns and fears so we can ask the experts for advice in those areas.
Please pray about how you and your church might participate in making a positive difference in the Kingdom and the state by intentionally focusing on the prison population in some specific way.
—Jennifer Davis Rash