“She did what she could.”
These five words of Jesus found in Mark 14, commend a woman for taking action. He noted that though she couldn’t solve a looming societal problem like poverty at that moment, she could use what she had to worship Him in the best way she could. Stonecroft women commit their time and abilities to reach others with Jesus’s love – their acts of worship.
This past year, the pandemic forced Stonecroft volunteers in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to change the way they did ministry. For more than 10 years, they’ve devoted themselves to bring Christ’s love to the women in the Washington Co. Correctional Facility. They’ve provided a faith-based monthly life lesson and practical life skills to the hurting women there. To complement the life lessons, another team brings Stonecroft Bible Studies (SBS) to small groups of women weekly in the facility, helping them to discover how the Bible can guide daily living, while showing them love and encouragement.
But when COVID-19 stopped the visits, the Stonecroft women regrouped, committed to keep the impact going. They wanted to do something.
“We didn’t want to lose the contact we’d made with the women in jail. We were afraid that we’d be forgotten and we prayed that we could keep our foot in the door,” said Helen Lewis, Stonecroft volunteer with the Bartlesville Women’s Connection Jail Ministry.
The SBS team rallied and dedicated themselves to prayer for the broken, detained women and the quarantine situation. They then adjusted their activity to writing devotionals to get to the detainees. As they wrote on Scripture and biblical wisdom, they also shared their personal testimonies as to how God has been present and helped them through difficult times.
Helen explained that each Wednesday, the team prayed that the devotional topics would speak to the detainees. They prayed for a COVID vaccine to be distributed quickly. And they asked for God to help them return to on-site ministry at the jail.
The women in the jail gladly received the devotionals, decorating these acts-of-love-on-paper to display in their living spaces. And the volunteers gladly received word that they were not forgotten. In fact, they were missed.
The Stonecroft Jail Ministry team asked the sheriff’s staff if there was something they could help with for the holiday season. They helped wrap gifts for distribution to 104, a special holiday project of the sheriff’s department. They also dropped off special treats for the jail staff in the holidays, who were excited for the encouraging support.
“We got more than we gave,” said Debbie King, the life lesson leader. “It was an outlet for us to serve others.”
As Christmas approached, the Stonecroft team anxiously awaited an answer to their request to hold a special, in-person life lesson for Christmas. For 10 months, they’d prayed for the opportunity to re-enter the facility to minister. Christmas could be a special time to re-engage.
Debbie said she was reminded of the story of the imprisoned Paul in the Bible, how people prayed that his prison doors would be opened and he would be released. “Except, we were praying that God would open the prison doors so we could get in!” she said.
When they received word that Debbie, with another volunteer would be able to enter the facility to do a life lesson, their annual Christmas card activity, and bring a snack – they recognized the approval as a miracle.
Debbie, accompanied by Stonecroft Regional Administrator Dorea Potter, carried in a nativity scene, advent wreath and baby Jesus swaddled in a blanket to tell the story of Jesus’ birth. They brought pre-packaged snacks, wore masks and observed social distancing protocols. Eight detainees were present. Pre-pandemic attendance was nearly 30 women, but numbers were down because of COVID and more women being released to go home for the holidays.
Through storytelling and visuals, Debbie helped her listeners navigate the story of Jesus’ birth.
“God was gloriously there,” Debbie said. “they stayed engaged. You could see it on their faces.”
All the listeners responded to the invitation to receive Christ and took the resources offered, ready to begin a new life in Christ!
The Bartlesville Women’s Connection Jail Ministry offers these suggestions for writing devotionals to continue connection during the pandemic:
- Share your personal testimony, tell what’s going on in your lives.
- Use Scripture that is encouraging.
- Don’t be afraid to mention sin and shame while following it up with the compassion of Jesus to overcome them.
- Let readers know that God won’t take them where the grace of God won’t protect them.
- Remind readers that God has identified them as His own.
- Encourage them to have hope in the dark times.
- Write about the importance of kindness, hope and joy.
Eternity can look different for even more women in the Bartlesville detention center, as jail ministry volunteers continue to do what they can. They still write devotionals to stay connected with the hurting women and offer faith-based encouragement. They continue their prayer sessions, praying for the detainees, the pandemic, and the opportunity to return. They look forward to more miracles as lives are changed.
“It was miraculous for the whole team,” Debbie said. “It took the prayers and service of so many people. I feel overwhelmed when I think of the people in there so isolated, feeling so lonely. It was a compassionate God who made it so we could return to minister. It was an honor to carry Him back in there.”