Returned citizens’ life changed because of ‘church ladies’ efforts

 

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.

Found God

“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.

Email your suggestions and/or information to jrash@thealabamabaptist.org. For more information on Kairos, visit http://www.kairos-al.org.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Allowing others to hold the rope provides blessing both ways

7-year-old Belle Mitchell

7-year-old Belle Mitchell

“Belle will be featured in my prayers this day — for her, for each one who has a part in caring for her and Aunt Jen Jen, may the Lord wrap you in His loving comfort and enduring courage.”

Prayers like this have been coming my way continually through email, handwritten notes, Facebook messages and texts. Friends from around the world are following the cancer journey of my 7-year-old niece Belle (www.caringbridge.org/visit/bellemitchell). They have been such a great support to all of us, especially during the intense moments like now. As I write this column, Belle is having a difficult recovery from her fourth brain surgery.

Each day brings new challenges but also new levels of support.

Many who are praying have never even met Belle, yet they tirelessly secure the rope for us to hold on to during this time.

Along with prayer support, many are doing practical things like helping with Belle’s other siblings, mowing the family’s grass, bringing meals and even sending meals from hundreds of miles away (ordering pizza and having it delivered … a great idea I’m going to remember to use myself).

Showing grace

And so many are helping me personally by taking on extra work assignments, assisting me with my personal responsibilities and showing lots of grace for the commitments I’ve put on hold at the moment.

Some friends are too far away to help clean the house or do laundry, but they sincerely want to help.

“I’m not just saying it. I mean it. Tell me something I can do,” one friend said. Another, “I mean it. We are here to serve.”

And while I know what it is like to be on the other side sincerely wanting to help, it is still hard for us as a family to allow people to do too much. We are always appreciative and even shocked at the care shown by so many, but we start feeling as if we have used up our compassion quota and worry those around us are experiencing compassion fatigue.

Still we are learning to accept the offers more widely and depend on others during the tough moments.

The small things

It is amazing how much someone showing up at the front door with a bag of paper products or a gallon of milk can make a difference. Then there’s the Thinking of You card that shows up with a few $1 bills in it to help with vending machine and parking deck fees at the hospital. (For more ideas on how to help a family in crisis, see Arkansas Christian Parent magazine Fall/Winter 2013, pages 10 and 11.)

Observing the various options for assisting a family in crisis and plugging into those areas seamlessly and quietly seem to make the greatest impact, I’ve noticed.

Even inexpensive gestures that save the family time or make a routine responsibility more convenient means so much.

Above all though, consistent prayer support undergirds the family. It helps even more when specific prayer needs are known. The best way to keep up with these needs is to follow the patient’s preferred communication plan (CaringBridge, Caring Pages, Facebook, a blog, a family spokesperson, etc.). Another ministry to a family in crisis is to protect the immediate family members’ time and energy and work through extended family, close friends or church connections to stay updated and know how to help.

We have a hard time letting others serve us. We are used to being the ones serving, but what a tremendous blessing it is — in both directions — to allow people to minister to us. It is truly a picture of God’s people at their best.

— Jennifer Davis Rash