As we enter this special time of thankfulness, we remember all He has done this year. With grateful hearts, we give glory to God for all He is doing in the hearts of our women.
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.
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.
2011 has been a year of outreaches for Discipleship Unlimited. Speakers, dancers and wonderful Bible teachers have traveled from many states for these events. 3,000 women in white, from Texas City to Woodman State Jail to Gatesville Prisons, were given an opportunity to hear the “good, glad, merry news!” Prayer paves the way, as volunteers go cell to cell. Divine appointments are the order of the day. Evenings are filled with worship and teaching. Volunteers travel from many states to join God in what He is doing here.
These men and women are all sizes, shapes, ages and backgrounds but they all want to bring God’s love. Those behind the fences are eager for a ray of hope. Jesus is our hope and prayer unlocks hearts. Edrena Smith did a fantastic job of coordinating this very diverse group of more than 150 people.
Recently, I received a letter from Clara, who has been in the Mountainview unit for eight years. She writes with such deep gratitude for our outreach event that she calls it a “Crusade of Love.” I want to share with you His work through Clara’s eyes:
I cannot express in words my admiration for this labor of love. For four days we have had awesome Bible teaching, poetry, music, dance, and time to interact in small groups. God hand picks each of the team members to cover our spiritual needs and there is something for everyone.
Roy Yamamoto, an ex-offender, is a full-time Pastor of New Hope Church. He shared his powerful story of redemption. He is a precious man of God. We are all ready to follow him to Hawaii to help with his Agape camp for children of the incarcerated.
Jill Briscoe returned to us with her lovely British accent and her stories of those in third world countries who suffer for serving Christ. Her messages give us a desire to go deeper and be stronger in our walk. She writes poetry and one of the team members, who is a lovely ballerina, danced as the poem was recited. It left a lasting impression of what it is like to be in Heaven or Hell—to be alone in a pit or in heaven with Jesus.
Many of the team members who serve with Discipleship Unlimited bring their children or grandchildren. Terry Strom has been a regular at our prison for years. He makes us feel comfortable because he is kind and makes us laugh. We love him. Jake Strom is 18 and tall and handsome. He plays the electric guitar with his father. Sue Mayer from Wisconsin brought her daughter to sing and share her story with us.
I can't believe people do this. Instead of going to a resort or for a four day week-end vacation they come to Gatesville and spend time with prisoners, [who feel like] the lowest of the low in the whole wide world.... They inspire us with hope and their messages are received with joy in our hearts. They encourage, comfort and urge us to live lives worthy of God. So many pleasant memories are left in our hearts. We long to see them again and again!
Thank you for soothing our afflicted hearts. Thank you for inspiring us to live a life worthy of love.
It is wonderful to receive such an affirming letter. However, for all of us who minister behind the walls, the joy is ours. We love the men and women who welcome us into their world and open their hearts to Him. For it is His call—to go to captives and watch Jesus set them free—to go and make disciples.
Through your prayers and gifts you make this ministry possible. Let’s continue to partner with Him in setting captives free!
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.
An exciting new DU venture with Dee Brestin.