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
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!
Read how God is transforming lives
This year will be our seventh year in Texas! Jean and I continue to minister in prisonsand at Celebrate Recovery at Temple Bible Church. Jake is finishing his Associates Degree at Temple College.
The summers are dry and hot and we live in a wooded area. Because of the drought and warm weather there are more bugs and snakes this summer. We recently saw two rattlesnakes. One was on our back porch. Jake was bite by a scorpion our first year in Morgans Point. Does this qualify us as true missionaries?
Woodman State Jail has been our main focus the past two years, and it is an incredible place! It is the intake facility for all the women coming into Gatesville. Every Wednesday night, 130 women pack the largest room available in the jail for our study.
We just finished the book of Ruth: "The Rescue." Dee Brestin does a fantastic teaching relating Ruth to the women in white; DU filmed it at Woodman, and now it is available to other ministries. The room is too crowded for the small group, but the large group sharing is amazing. The women pray for each other, encourage each other and care for each other.
This month was the graduation for the women at the First Faith Based Dorm - Woodman State Jail. Fifty women went through the program and will go out into population. Jean and I participated in their celebration.
Recently DU received a letter from the inmate Chaplain's assistant. It contained four letters of thanks. One was to you are faithful supporters.
To those who donate:
I am currently living in the Faith Based Dorm at Woodman State Jail in Gatesville, TX. I never would have dreamed how enriched my life would be through the programs offered here. Even before I moved into the dorm Linda, Terry and Jean were familiar faces. They often did church services and sponsored the Celebrate Recovery program.
Discipleship Unlimited blessed us with gifts of music, books and other resources to enrich our lives. DU sponsors frequent crusades with amazing speakers all who care about us and overlook the fact that we are in white. They don't judge us for our past and they see what we are becoming.
Discipleship Unlimited brings us hope and joy during this desperate time in our lives.
Please allow me to say thank you for your donations. You are helping us better our lives.
We as a staff and team of volunteers also thank you for your prayers and support. Your gifts make it possible for us to equip those who are being trained as inmate leaders. This is a sweeping move of God.
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.
The New Year kicks off with God's amazing power
It was an early morning after a late night. I was getting ready to go into prison to minister. We had stayed up most of the night ministering to a new team member and I looked the part—eyes puffy and body weary. I heard myself whisper, “I am going to prison to minister?” The Lord spoke to me deep within, “You don’t go to minister; you minister as you go.” Team ministry is ministry as we go. It takes longer to establish, but you go further and have a longer-lasting ministry. Jesus sent his followers out “two by two”. It has been said He did that because He knew they would not go out one by one.
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But I believe it was much more than that. As we minister as a team, we are transformed. Team members see our strengths and our weaknesses. We pray for and support each other through difficulties. We learn to tap into the giftedness of our fellow team members. We become a community of believers on the move … the church without walls.
DU is an exercise machine for the body of Christ. We have nearly 200 active volunteers from various churches in Central Texas. There is a Friday night men’s group that goes to the Hughes Unit. Afterward, on most Friday nights you will find a table of six to nine men at Prima Pasta in Gatesville, breaking bread together and talking about the wonders God is doing through their Experiencing God small group studies in this tough, sweltering-hot prison.
Behind these walls of prison we are seeing scars turned into stars … both inmates and volunteers! Building community both inside and out … only GOD!!! I had a phone call from one of our faithful team members who has been leading Breaking Free in the prison. I loved her words …
God took me to prison as a volunteer teacher and leader to deliver me from bondage I have been walking with all my life.
WOW! No wonder we are commanded to go. Often inmates comment on the love they see between our team members. Jesus said that the world would know us by our love …
Your support enables this work to be multiplied over and over again. We thank you for your partnership with us. You are a vital part of this movement.