40 Years in Full-Time Ministry
25 Years in Texas Prisons
Terry Meeuwsen has been my faithful friend and prayer partner for many years. She came to Texas in 1998 while Karla Faye Tucker was preparing for her execution. One evening, after leaving Mountain View, we went up on a hill overlooking the prisons in the area. We prayed for Karla and all those behind the fences. Then Terry suggested that we drive past the prisons and ask the Lord to open prison doors.
Now, 14 years later , Discipleship Unlimited is in every one of those prisons. God has allowed us to be an answer to our prayers!
An Interview with Terry Meeuwsen and Linda Strom
June 1! You are reaching another milestone ... 70 years old. How does it feel to turn 70?
Unreal … However, seven is a significant number in the Bible AND I am celebrating 70 years. If seven is a number of completion, I want to press on to complete this great adventure with God. So like Caleb at 80 I am ready to take the land.
What do you see God doing today that energizes you?
I see God changing lives in our prisons like never before. We still do outreaches and weekly studies. These are awesome and exciting, but we also have Faith-Based Dorms where inmates are being trained to be inmate ministers. Wardens and Chaplains partner with us to make these dorms as effective as possible. Senator Whitmire, who heads the Texas Dept of Criminal Justice, has endorsed the dorm concept. The rate of recidivism of graduates has proven the effectiveness of a walk with Jesus. The word of God works! Texas State Senator Dan Patrick says, “Our ultimate goal is to make our communities safer by changing the character of prisoners so, when released, they do not go back to a life of crime.”
What is the process for a Faith-Based Dorm?
Inmates apply for the program. We interview them, and with approval from the chaplain and warden of the unit, we accept those who have a heart for God and a teachable spirit. They live in a separate faith-dorm community. We take 12 to 18 months to prepare them to be “sent out” to other housing units in the prison.
Explain how it works in the dorm.
We have both men and women’s faith-based dorms, which have classes at least three days a week, plus special seminars. They have homework as well as their prison responsibilities. They also have daily devotionals as a dorm and an individual quiet time.
I had a meeting this week with the women in our newest faith dorm at Mountain View. It opened in January. I walked into a prison housing unit filled with joy and women eager for more of Jesus. They are ready to be taught the word. They live in a forced community, so their rough areas are exposed. During our community meetings, they own their issues. Grace is freely given; however, they hold each other accountable.
Some of the praise reports from that night.
I have been in prison for 24 years and this is the first time I’ve had hope. I can see how my life can still have purpose.
We have received prayer requests from other inmates and staff on this unit. We started praying for the women in segregation and the population is dropping.
We have seen over 50 answers to prayer since we started praying two months ago.
And then they graduate? Is it difficult for them to go back into general population?
It is a challenge, but we are preparing them to be missionaries from the beginning. When they graduate, we send them out in twos or threes to the other dorms, much like a church plant. Last week at our graduation in the Hobby Unit, 24 women graduated. Every graduate shared how her life had been changed. Some of these women had never received a diploma before. Graduations are highlights. It’s all about equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. That is the great commission.
Who teaches these classes and studies?
We have over 150 active, local volunteers, and they are committed. One teacher retired early to oversee one of our dorms. We have retired volunteers as well as people in their twenties. They are on mission with God and have joined Him in what He is doing behind the fences.
How do you stay connected with so many volunteers?
I still take an active part in all of the outreaches and have weekly contact with leaders of the studies. We had a volunteer retreat this year where over 100 people attended. Released offenders came to thank the volunteers and give updates of their lives. One of our first graduates is now the Chaplain at Harris County Jail in Houston. People who once were incarcerated are now free and active in local churches and ministry.
Terry and Jean joined you in 2005. That has allowed the ministry to address some key issues in the lives of inmates. Tell me about that.
85% of our inmates have substance abuse issues. Terry and Jean and their team are doing amazing things in the area of recovery. They do recovery work, both inside and outside of prison walls. They welcome those newly released men and women and their families into local Christ-centered recovery programs.
Terry loves leading worship, and Jean has a heart for the women on death row. It is amazing how God fit our staff and team together. Kathy Diaz has been with us for seven years. She keeps us on track with detail. Kathy and Rich Diaz and Terry and Jean are friends who work together. They speak at local churches and impart the vision. Our goal is to train leaders who train leaders. Motto: Always think multiplication.
I know your heart for Africa. Are you planning another trip?
Yes! I can’t wait. I did my first Johannesburg Conference with you in 2001. This year in August will be my seventhtrip. I will go to Cape Town and Wellington, South Africa. I stay for a month; I speak at Women’s conferences and church services. I also am involved in prison ministry, and we are developing a similar discipleship program for the prison there. Edrena and Mike Smith plan to come to Wellington for 10 days and we will minister in the prisons together. Edrena is an amazing administrator, and she does our curriculum development.
What is the greatest need for Discipleship Unlimited today?
The doors are open and the volunteers are in place. However, our Chaplains do not have a budget. All equipment and materials must be provided by the ministry. We supply material for hundreds of inmates weekly. We bring in speakers and musicians for the outreaches and have celebrations for graduation. We are very grateful for our faithful financial supporters, however, we continue to need additional ongoing support and gifts in order to expand and deepen our efforts.
We also need prayer. We are establishing communities of light in the heart of medium and maximum- security prisons. This is a great day for the church on the outside to come together with the church on the inside. The Bible instructs the church to go. You can go as a volunteer, a prayer warrior, or a financial supporter. The prison doors are open, and our goal is to disciple men and women who’ve come to faith into wholeness and lives of purpose.