Sharing the Word of God with the institutionalized can sometimes take us to unforeseen places, where traumatized souls suffer from old wounds that have never fully healed. Such was the journey I recently found myself embarking upon with some women at the county jail.
We were studying the story of Peter as he attempted to do the impossible — walk on water! We were well into the story, imagining the terrifying situation the disciples found themselves in as a violent storm tossed their boat about in the middle of the sea of Galilee. When we got to the part where Peter steps out of the boat to join Jesus on the water, I noticed that Jill, who had been in my group before, was beginning to tear up. I took note of this but went on with the story.
As we talked about how Peter, distracted by the howling wind and violent waves crashing all around him, started to sink, Jill began to sob openly. While I didn’t want to embarrass her further, I felt the need to provide an opportunity for her to share whatever was troubling her with the group. When I paused to ask if she had something to share, Jill asked with a trembling voice, “Can I go back to the unit?” “Is there something wrong?” I asked. Struggling to give voice to her misery, Jill answered, “I saw my sister drown when I was five and all this talk of Peter drowning takes me back there. It is just too much!”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, tell me to come to you on the water.”Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me! " Matthew 14:28-30.
I said, “I am so sorry you had to go through that and are now experiencing that grief all over again.” And right there and then we prayed; I really had no idea what else to do for Jill, the group, or for myself. So, I asked everyone to pray with me: “God, please be with Jill. She needs you right now. You know what she’s been through and the pain she continues to bear. Wrap her up in your love, hold her close in her grief, and walk with her through this healing process as she grieves the loss of her sister….” When we finished praying, Jill decided to stay for the remainder of the lesson.
Afterwards, Jill came up to talk. “I’m sorry.” she said. “I tried really hard to make it through and not disturb the group.” I told her that I was sorry that Peter’s story opened an old wound, but I’m glad that God could hold on to her as she relived that painful memory.
Many of the women in jail are there because they are addicts. And, many of them are addicts because they have been trying to find an escape from things in their life or personal baggage from their past. Since these forms of escape are not available to them in jail, they are plunged headlong into what they were trying to escape or avoid — whether that’s guilt and regret, fear and worry, or in this case, grief from losing a sister. Bible stories can sometimes trigger thoughts and emotions they were trying to escape from, but perhaps, that is just part of God’s plan.
Now, in that vulnerable place, instead of running away through drugs or drinking, they can run into the loving arms of Jesus, where they can find true help and healing.
Learn how Chaplain Sarah Guenther started with Institutional Ministries
As a Junior in High School, one of my college visits was to Wisconsin Lutheran College. I shadowed a student while she was doing a Bible study at a group home for teens. I was hooked by the experience. I enrolled at WLC and later signed up to share Jesus in the group home as well!
Today, I am blessed to do ministry for Institutional Ministries in two areas: First, I get to shine the light of Jesus’ love on the women behind the walls of county jails; and secondly, I help other women volunteer to serve behind the walls of their communities.
Learn more about our Women's Ministry