Leading a Bible study in prison may sound intimidating, but after my work with Prison Fellowship®, I'd lead a Bible study in prison any day. For the past few years I've been blessed to co-lead a women's Bible study at a local jail. The experience has given me new insight into relating with women who are incarcerated.
You have more in common than you think
When I first entered the jail, I was conscious of how different I was from the women there. I wore jeans and a sweatshirt; they wore orange jumpsuits. I was a young woman leading a Bible study; they were mainly older inmates who couldn't find the Gospel of John.
But I quickly learned we had a lot in common. I miss my family across the country, and they miss their families outside the jail. They love their boyfriends and husbands, and I love my fiancé. But the most important thing I realized is that we all need Jesus.
One week a woman at the jail asked how she could pray for me, and she prayed the most loving words of blessing over me. That's when I realized that we are all women on a journey to be filled more abundantly with the love of Jesus, inside and outside prison. I stopped being afraid of incarcerated women and started seeing them—and myself—through eyes of faith.
You have more to talk about than you think
During a prisoner volunteer orientation, the warden warned us not to talk about our last names, our jobs, our families, or anything else that was personally identifiable. "Stick with your first names and the Bible lesson," he said. How could I build a relationship with women in prison when I couldn't talk about some of the most important things in my life or theirs?
But what I've realized is this: when you're standing at the foot of the cross, there is a lot to talk about. When both of you are sinners in need of grace, you have a great God to worship.
I don't know—and have never known—the reasons why the women are incarcerated. I don't know their crimes, and I don't need to know. What they know, and what I know, is that we are unbelievably loved and forgiven by our Savior, and that's something that we can talk about for all eternity.
You are more loved than you believe
It's easy to feel insufficient when you walk into a prison.
One of the first Bible studies I led was on the resurrection of Jesus. At the end of the evening, one of the women asked, "What does the word 'resurrection' mean?" I had been teaching for an hour, and they hadn't even known what I was talking about! I realized that I needed to define most of the Christian words that I was using—words like resurrection, salvation, or baptism.
I began to explain the gospel more simply over the next few weeks—and to my surprise, I found that I understood it more deeply. The gospel had become something that I could easily put into my own words, something far more understandable. Words like "salvation" suddenly had a lot more meaning when we came to the foot of the cross and celebrated the beauty of grace.
Sometimes I still feel insufficient to lead a Bible study in prison, but teaching there reminds me of Christ's sufficiency. His love for me doesn't depend on how well I define the word "resurrection." His love for us is unconditional, and that's why I'm excited to share it with women in prison.