Of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, 55 are designated rural. Those counties are RAM’s mission field. Situated in that mission field is Washita County and a few women who decided to answer God’s call to abandon their comfort zone and follow Him beyond the bars and bolted doors of the county jail.
There are some unique characteristics to the county jail system that set it apart from a state or federal facility. One of the most significant as it pertains to rural missions is that the majority of its inmates are from the county it serves. Unless inmates are awaiting transfer to a state or federal facility, they are likely going to reside in that same county when they are released. If they don’t, they often have relatives who do and so there is still a possible connection. The significance shouldn’t be hard to see.
What if, at the county level, women instead of men ministered to the women inmates with the Word of God, prayer, and friendship? What if that ministry and friendship continued once the female inmates were released back into the local community where many of them came from to begin with? What would happen? Would it make a much needed difference? Would it begin to address the big problem of female incarceration in Oklahoma? Better question: what has happened?
Annette Herren, a member of the 4th & College Church of Christ in Cordell, OK could not ignore the gnawing conviction that God was calling her to reach out to the female inmates in the Washita County jail. She had no experience in “prison ministry” and felt personally inadequate at the prospect. She questioned if she should attempt something that would be better left to someone with jail ministry experience; she had none. But inexperience did not stop her from answering God’s call on her heart. She was soon behind bars (so to speak) and became Christ’s ambassador of hope for women who had lost theirs. She was soon followed by other women from her church and together they have become a force of good overcoming evil. Christ is using them to break the cycle of destruction predominant among women in Oklahoma’s penal system.
Since Annette took that first step of faith a few years ago, the Holy Spirit has used her and those that work with her to lead a number of women to Christ. This has involved many hours inside and outside the county jail listening to numerous women’s stories of heartbreak and personal moral failure. It has cost her time, energy and resources. It has been hard lessons learned about when to help and when too much help is harmful; when to let go and when to hold on. But always, always, it has been an offer of hope found in a life surrendered to Christ, where one who is willing to take one step at a time, one day at a time, discovers real freedom.
It’s stories like Annette’s and the women she and her women’s ministry team are reaching that embody an appropriate Kingdom response to one of our state’s and nation’s biggest problems. It’s a story of faith in the face of doubt, hope in the place of despair, redemption over destruction. It’s a story we would do well to repeat, again and again. We can and we must.
(If you would like to learn more about how you could duplicate this ministry of women reaching women in our county jails, contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to share what God is doing. And stay tuned for Part III of this series coming soon!)