Nine years ago, in the fall of 2005, Terry and Jean joined Dallas and me in ministry in Texas. In 2008, Dallas went to be with the Lord. Looking back we can see how God was preparing us for His purposes
We visited the women in hospice. Claudia, one of the inmate patients, was in her final stages of liver cancer. She looked at me and said, “Oh! You’re Terry’s mother. I met you at Woodman State Jail.” Claudia spoke about how she loved it when Terry sang He Rescued Me! “That’s what Jesus did for me. This is so difficult for my daughter and my mother. But now I know the Lord.”
Then we prayed, and from her deathbed she began to sing How Great is our God! Karen, the Chaplain’s assistant who is also an inmate, came with us to bring Bibles and books. She had just received a two-year set off. She has been in prison 19 years and was with me the night of Karla’s execution.
Before we went into the hospice unit she told me, “I’m a mess today. I’m trying to figure out how to tell my family I will not see the parole board again for two more years.” However, when Claudia began to sing, I looked across at Karen. Tears were streaming down her face, and in her brokenness, she sang How Great is our God.
Terry and Jean Strom moved to Texas eight years ago to join Discipleship Unlimited. The Lord has opened doors above and beyond! Many have received freedom and healing through their Christ-centered recovery group at Woodman State Jail.
They both minister in our Faith-Based Dorms, and Jean is attending a seminar to help equip offenders to prepare for the job market. Terry is our worship leader.
We love the joy of worshiping with those behind the fences. Keep Terry and Jean in your prayers as they press on to take the prize ...
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.
Brittany Holberg has been on death row in Mountain View prison for 13 years. I first met her while I still lived in Milwaukee. However, for the last several years I have had the opportunity to be Britt’s spiritual advisor. This summer Britt was sent to the Amarillo county jail to appear before a judge. She came back on fire for God!
"I felt overwhelmed with fear at times before I left for the county jail. I prayed for strength and wisdom. From the moment I left my cell I saw answers to my desperate prayer. It has been 13 years since I'd seen the outside world and I was in awe of God's creation. The officers who drove the state car and escorted me were curious about "life on the row."
I found myself talking freely about my walk with Jesus. The more I talked about Him the less I thought about my situation. I'd heard and even confessed to letting go and letting God take over. I was put to the test!
On death row we are housed in individual cells, isolated from general population. Not so in the Amarillo jail. I was housed with other women. I recognized the brokenness in the women around me. I could relate to their lostness and the bondage of guilt and shame that is far greater then prison bars. I had a desire to share the love that I have found in Christ with them. I wanted them to see Jesus in me the way I see Jesus in Jean.
I never imagined how powerful my own testimony could be. My purpose now is to share His grace and mercy with as many people as I can."
I look forward to my twice-monthly visits with Britt. Her courage and faith spur me on!
Blessings to you,
Jean (& Terry too)
Thank you, ministry partners, for funding the Ruth Project! Thank you, Dee Brestin, for using your gift to teach those behind the walls.Nearly 200 women at the Mt. View Unit participated in our first Ruth DVD Bible Study. With the leadership of Kathy and Rich Diaz, along with their well-trained team of volunteers, the inmates watched the teaching DVD and worked through lesson one of the study book. Our prayer and desire has been that this seven-week study would be relevant and produce disciples. As the women participated in the first discussion, guided by their volunteer leader, it was clear that God is answering our prayers.
Karla Faye Tucker is our example of a contemporary Ruth. She was also housed in the Mt. View unit. Karla was a woman with a painful past who was radically saved and walked with unwavering faith. She pressed through great hardship. In the time leading up to her execution, Karla became a witness to the world. Her powerful testimony continues to multiply as it is shared throughout the Ruth study. We will also use this study guide to follow up with those who read the book Karla Faye Tucker Set Free and ask for study material. Today, more than 250,000 copies are in print, and letters are received daily. Her story of faith and transformation lives on!
Thank you, ministry partners, for your faithful prayers and support for the 120 inmates in our 18-month discipleship course at Murray and Hobby units!
Many graduates are now in the prison’s general population and are holding Bible studies for their fellow inmates. The following letter is from Lori, one of our graduates. This is just one example of how God is changing lives through the Faith Dorms:
Dallas’ legacy will live on through the women in white spreading the gospel of Jesus one to another. None of us will ever be the same. During my time in the faith dorm I have learned what family really means. I’ve learned about extending mercy to myself as well as others. I’ve learned to be accountable and to never accept defeat. You have taught me that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. My goal is to love others the way you do. The entire faith based dorm team is embedded on my heart forever.
Thank you, ministry partners, for your prayers and support for Terry and Jean. We are so grateful for the fruit that Terry and Jean are seeing as God changes lives through their ministry both inside of prison walls and out. They often do Sunday services at the various units as well as orientation for the newly incarcerated women. This has been an amazing year with a packed room every Wednesday for Celebrate Recovery at Woodman State Jail. Thank you for your prayers for them as they lead these vital ministries.
Here is a letter from Tiffany, a former inmate at Woodman, who was one of their participants:
I attended Celebrate Recovery with you. I appreciate how you relate to us and understand about the importance of our children. Now that I am home I am reunited with my son. We both faithfully attend CR twice a week. Thank you!
Through your giving, DU provides books and ministry materials that are so desperately needed by those behind the walls—and God is changing lives. Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel. It is Jesus’ good, glad, merry news that makes us sing for joy!
Resurrection Sunday was a day of celebration for our family, as we traveled to the Woodman State Jail. Permission had been granted to hold open air services, so any inmate who wanted to worship could attend. Women in white quietly lined up waiting for freedom to move into our area. Razor wire framed the perimeter. Seven chairs were put in place by the young women who assist the Chaplain. The chairs were for us.
There were no pews or chairs for the inmates. Instead, they sat on the ground on concrete slabs for several hours. They were not allowed to stand. Not even for worship. But that did not hinder their passion and praise.
As I lead, “Lord I lift your name on high!” I felt the presence of the Lord. Everyone in that large jail could surely hear our worship. Correctional officers joined in singing Amazing Grace! It was a day for joy!
My son Jake is in his second year at Temple College and will be 19 years old in May. What a man! When he was three I wrote a song entitled Jacob’s Song (that seems like such a short time ago). As I thought about my hopes for Jake, I had written, “I pray the blessings given to me will rain down upon his shoulders and he’ll serve you.” God has answered that prayer. Recently, Jake ministered with our team in Woodman State Jail, Mountain View, Hilltop, and Death Row. This dad’s heart overflowed! Walking back into the chapel from Death Row he commented, “This is the happiest, sad place I have ever been.” Jake’s words nailed the joy and challenge of ministering in prison.
Jake and a gifted team of volunteers joined us for several outreaches that were off the chart! Bev DeSalvo shared her story of healing from abuse, bringing great comfort to the women.
Charla Pereau spoke six times to overflow crowds. Charla founded “Foundation for His Ministry” in Mexico’s Baja 44 years ago to provide a place of love and care for orphans. The ministry now includes an orphanage, medical center, church, feeding station for the poor and a fire department in the Baja location—and three other major works. To echo Jake’s words of this miracle ministry, “This is rad. Charla doesn’t just have an orphanage; she has a whole city.”
Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered twelve-step program, continues strong in Woodman. Last week my precious wife Jean shared her story. Many women were in tears, as God used Jean’s past to help the women with their future. This week I will teach and wrap-up the current twelve-week session. It’s a privilege to see God working in all of our lives as we draw close to Him.
The eight teaching and testimony segments filmed live at Woodman State Jail are powerful. They are available on DVD. Dee Brestin, best-selling author and teacher, is a captivating speaker. Terry Strom and I share our stories of redemption. Segments of Karla Faye Tucker filmed in the months before her execution challenge women to go deep in their walk with God. Karla was redeemed by Jesus Christ, and her journey of 14 years on the row is presented as a parallel to the rescue of Ruth.
One woman who works with incarcerated women wrote:
I wept as I watched the DVD because to me it was an answered prayer, first prayed in 2001! To have a video that relates to incarcerated women is so deeply affirming!
A study guide written by Dee will be given to each participant. The DVD sets and study guide will be completed in April. Your gifts make it possible for us to freely give study materials to those in our dorms and classes. We also plan to make this study available to pre-release centers and homeless shelters. Please pray for continued resources as we expand our vision.
Dee and I will be interviewed on Moody Radio Midday Connection March 30, at noon. Check out the program and listen in!
Updates and news from Woodman.