There were 26 official graduates at Murray and 20 graduates at Mountain View this month. Each graduate spoke with great insight and poise about their time in the dorm and how God has taught them to focus on Him.
Tiwangi Kyle was a treasure hidden in the darkness. As a child she was abandoned by her father, witnessed abuse, and became a woman who was abusive, angry, hostile, and unable to give or receive love.
Edrena Smith coordinates our Murray Faith Based Dorm. She received a letter from one of the women who was eligible to graduate. She had been diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer and had been transferred to the Carole Young Medical facility in Texas City. They did surgery to remove her right breast, and she was facing radiation or chemo. Her letter was amazing, showing the kind of gratefulness that comes from a heart transformed by Jesus. Despite her loss, she was so thankful for being in a place that had no locked doors, feeling freedom. She had been reading her past journals written at Murray and realized God had been preparing her heart for what she was now facing.
She was also grateful for the family of God, and her letter moved me to tears when she wrote:
I’ve learned your family won’t always be there for you. It may seem funny but people you aren’t related to can take care of you and love you and teach you to trust people again. All family isn’t biological.
She closed by asking if we would mail her graduation certificate and if I would commission her. So Edrena and I surprised her by driving to Texas City. It’s a four-hour drive but worth every minute of it. What a reunion we had!
There is power in the name of Jesus! We passed out Christmas bags to nearly 2500 women. We went to several large, noisy segregation units with a message of hope for those who feel hopeless. After the gifts were given and as we sang, a hush came over this large two story-housing unit.
There is power in the name of Jesus; to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain.
A proclamation of freedom. Then one of our volunteers shouted, “Sing these words back to us as a declaration!” Then we heard the voices of those locked up 23 out of 24 hours a day declaring, “There is power in the name of Jesus.” The presence of the Lord invaded segregation.
Our officer’s heart was softened hour by hour as he saw God healing broken hearts, restoring hope, and setting women free. At the close of the day, he asked me to sign a Karla Faye Tucker: Set Free book for him, and told me he planned to read it.
That night, our Murray Faith Dorm produced a play, and it was an open-call Chapel night. As our chapel filled to capacity, an entire housing unit was turned away. Hearts are open.
Faith Dorms are a great asset when our team ministers in the housing units. Both Mountain View and Hilltop will have graduations in the next month. Our graduates are prepared to lead studies in the dorms.
On Christmas day, 24 of the 29 ladies on lock up at Mountain View attended service. As I looked over this packed chapel of women in white singing Silent Night, my heart was filled with joy and hope!
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Meet Betty Gonzales, graduate of the Murray Faith-Based Dorm!
Cleaning Service Mother, six-year-old Joseph Volunteer, Media Team Palo Pinto Cowboy Church Good Samaritan Ministry
Betty arrived at Woodman State Jail on April 22, 2009. She accepted Christ two weeks later. After being assigned to the Murray Unit, she applied for our Faith-Based Dorm program. She had a hunger for the Word and was a key leader.
After 18 months in the program Betty shared at the graduation. Then she was commissioned to minister in the prison population. She was released from prison in July 2011.
Today, she is active in her church and ministers hope to ex-offenders. She spoke at our Reignite Reunion. Even though she has had many adjustments and challenges, her gratitude and passion for Jesus remain constant.
In order to support herself, Betty began cleaning houses. One of her clients sent me an email.
I love to come in and find Betty mopping the floors with a beautiful smile on her face and a praise song on her lips. Her joy and giving spirit are contagious. She spent an entire day cleaning for an elderly person in our community. It was her gift and a beautiful example of sacrificial giving.
And the gift goes on and on and on.
Thank you ministry partners!
How surprising that so often in prison women are set free. In one of our prison chapels the women have put up a banner proclaiming: God’s House of Freedom! Indeed, in that chapel there is freedom in worship, freedom in proclaiming His word and visible evidence of captives being released. What joy to join our Savior in what He is doing behind these fences.
A God-Sized Assignment
When the opportunity came to move this freedom into prison dorms, we accepted the challenge. The team began sowing into the lives of 56 women at the Murray Unit. That was six years ago. There were struggles and tears as we moved our classes into the hot dorms. The officers had to adjust to our presence.
Sometimes we were exhausted. But our team of 20 volunteers continued. As Experiencing God teaches, God had given us a God-sized assignment that only He could accomplish. But He invited us to join Him.
Now we have several hundred women in our Discipleship dorm program and over 200 trained volunteers. Our curriculum includes an Experiencing God weekend. Kathy Diaz and Tom Henderson organize these weekends and invite the volunteers from each unit to participate. God brings together a unity through prayer, teaching, worship and small groups.
I received a letter from Christine, one of the women in the dorm sharing the impact of the weekend.
Excerpts from Christine
Friday was really special for the new girls. Everyone was so excited! The testimonies and preaching were very good. God ordained the small groups and lots of walls came down. The songs were beautiful and the wind carried the music outside our dorm. We saw women walking along praising the Lord with us.
But it was today that really touched my heart. We did not have a Chapel service. Lisa said, “This is the faith based dorm so let’s have our own service.” And we did! We set up chairs and the choir sang. Lisa shared on Mark 8. God was at work around us, and we joined him.
Linda, I never believed how effective a faith-based dorm could be. Though not perfect, I know we are all being changed as we Experience God together. He is so faithful.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Thank you for sowing into this ministry.
Celebrate Graduation 2012!
Thousands of desperate people are waiting to be set free behind prison bars. Welcome Jesus: The Liberator. As our volunteers declare His truth, their lives are being impacted and transformed as well. The Gospel becomes a reality in places that are barren and bleak. Our Savior was born in a dark cave in Bethlehem, so he is comfortable in dismal places and fills them with light.
Christmas celebrations will be held at Hughes, the men’s facility, as well as Mountain View, Hilltop, Hilltop Trusty, Murray, and Marlin.
Our family will be doing a special Christmas service at Woodman State Jail on December 23.
We will do Sunday services at Mountain View on December 26. Teams will go cell to cell to visit those who cannot attend church.
My grandson Jake has heard about the women on death row since he was five years old. The day after Christmas, he and Jean will have church with them.