God’s Spirit at work in women’s prison

If number of tears shed is an indication, Divine Hope’s summer study center at Rockville Correctional Facility was a huge success. Tears sprang to eyes as women inmates shared heartbreaking concerns. Tears flowed as music touched hearts. And tears welled in eyes shining with joy and hope in Jesus Christ.

“God mightily blessed the six-week summer session on the Heidelberg Catechism at the women’s prison,” Divine Hope administrator Nathan Brummel says. “What was striking about this summer class is that the Holy Spirit appeared to be working in the heart of every lady involved.”

Twenty-seven inmates completed the course and graduated in a ceremony held on August 7, 2015. Eleven of them spoke at the ceremony, sharing how the Holy Spirit had used the teaching to transform their minds and hearts.

Prison Chaplain Rick Hayes also spoke, noting the striking nature of the women’s speeches and how uniquely this graduation compared to the hundreds of others he’s witnessed. Rev. Brummel gave an address from Titus 2:3-5 on the calling of older Christian women to teach younger ones to be “husband lovers, to love their children, and to be workers at home.”

The summer session included two courses on the Heidelberg Catechism on Mondays and Tuesdays and Fridays and Saturdays from June 28-August 8, 2015. Seminary personnel as well as volunteers, primarily women, ministered to the inmates through lecture, music, prayer, and fellowship over refreshments. The inmates couldn’t get enough of the homemade cookies, fresh vegetables and fruit. One woman commented that she hadn’t eaten a grape for over five years.

More precious than fresh treats was the fellowship among Christian sisters. Many friendships formed, and several inmates hope to share their sisters’ church homes after their release. And inmates testified to the dramatic impact of the teaching.

One inmate write: “I am very grateful for the last six weeks! The Divine Hope Seminary study of the Heidelberg Catechism…absolutely helped me to understand the value and importance of creeds and confessions. One of the greatest things I have learned about God is that He cares about our comfort and assurance.”

One woman, who mentors other inmates, had struggled with figuring out how to implement individual gifts. “Divine Hope volunteers showed me the wide variety of gifts in Christian women. I don’t have to be a great teacher and my friends don’t have to be as nurturing and relational as I. We have learned to value each other’s gifts as well as each other’s differences.”

Another inmate shared how the teaching reached beyond class members: “The Reformed faith is not ‘mainstream’ here at Rockville Prison. Many people have treated us as if we didn’t know what we were talking about. But now, since this study on the Heidelberg Catechism, we are seeing so many people opening their eyes to the Reformed Faith.”

A woman raised as a Jehovah’s Witness related, “This class has really opened up my eyes and my heart. I no longer feel confused about what the truth is. The fact that God, because of Christ, sees me as blameless and righteous in his eyes astounds me. He doesn’t see me as a heroin addict, a liar, a thief, someone who breaks His commandments daily, but He sees me as His daughter. This truly is the biggest comfort to me.”

A young prisoner took to heart two primary lessons: “One is learning the true meaning of idolatry. I am currently doing a 121 year sentence because I worshipped and idolized a man. I would do anything to show him I loved him. I now see I put this man before God, although at the time I thought I was doing what God wanted…loving someone more than myself.” She also learned about life’s purpose. “It was always so easy for me to put others above me because to me life had no meaning. I’d tried to take my life more times than I could count. Now that I’ve gone through this class I know the purpose of life. It is to serve and glorify the Lord. I will gladly sit behind these bars for the rest of my life if that is what it takes to show others that your life’s happiness isn’t based on where you are. On a sunny beach, with your family at the park, or behind bars in a cell. Your happiness can only be found in one place and that is within God.”

Not only inmates experienced God’s blessings this summer. Time after time, volunteers testified to the incredible work of the Spirit in their own lives.

Jubilee Singers
The Jubilee Singers

Priscilla Boot, of the Jubilee Singers, wrote: “I see the ladies in my mind’s eyes, and I am so grateful that God gave me the opportunity to meet them, learn with them, and sing His praises with and for them. I feel humbled, too. I know I am just as much a sinner as they; yet I get to be with my loved ones, I am free to go to church, I may live each day doing my work as I see fit, and they are behind those clanging gates, the high fences, the locks and scanners. We…are more like than unlike those in prison; any gifts we have will be used by God, as we follow His gentle guidance, in places we would never have thought of on our own.”

Volunteers often found it difficult to put the experience into words. Witnessing the powerful work of the Spirit in the lives of the inmates as well as one’s own life defies expression.

“I wonder if the Holy Spirit has ever blessed a class on the Heidelberg Catechism so mightily,” Professor Brummel says. “God used the teaching by the faculty, ministers, and Reformed ladies as well as the tremendous love demonstrated by the Reformed women to transform the students.”

The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 6-7 of the August 26, 2015, issue of Christian Renewal.

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