Dear fellow believers in Christ our Lord —
First of all, I want to thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the head of the Church. Second, I want to thank the Church who is the body of Christ and how this body functions together for edifying of the saints.
As a mother whose son is a convicted felon, I would not have been able to walk through the fiery trial without Christ and His body.
When we received that middle of the night phone call a little over three years ago, the body, His church, immediately responded to our needs. Believers came over. Brought food. Called to offer support. It was overwhelming at times when suffering from shock, but I am so grateful these loving and kind people lifted us up in prayer, made the phone calls, and stopped by.
As our son’s incarceration turned into months that led up to his trial, then his subsequent conviction, the church, which for us has been a body of believers around the world, continued to rally around me and my family in prayer support. We are so grateful, for the prayers of the saints has sustained us.
After my son’s conviction, and as we learn to navigate the penal system, there have been some in the body who were with us from the very beginning who continue to press into this long journey with us in prayer and emotional support. And for that I am thankful as we need this to help gird up our strength in a system that is so different than the world we are familiar with.
There are others who were with us on this journey for a short season. However, God is faithful and He brings other members of His body to join us on the journey and they too now offer prayer covering for our incarcerated son and the continuing legal process via appeals. I am grateful for those in the body of Christ who journey with us for their appointed seasons.
To say that I appreciate the prayer and emotional support through messages, cards, text messages, emails, and phone calls does not adequately express the significance of it. Some days, the encouraging text or email would be exactly what I needed to strengthen me to function for the next segment of my day. I wish there was something more to say than just Thank you. But thank you.
As we began this unexpected journey, we learned that the church is ill equipped to handle this particular circumstance for families of incarcerated loved ones. I see the church functioning well in meeting the needs of the people in other areas. But in the church circles I’ve personally experienced, I can’t say I see the church (other than designated prison ministries) who “continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison” as instructed in Hebrews 13:3. I confess, before this happened to me, I never thought much about prisoners as I did not hear about it in church. And I didn’t know any families who had loved ones in prison.
That is until I began to openly share my situation. Then one by one, people who sat in the same sanctuary with me came to me in private. Those who saw my posts on social media began to private message me.
Our churches have families who deal with the shame, stress, worry, and fears of having a loved one locked up behind bars and we are unaware of this. There are probably some of these families sitting next to you in your congregation. The pain, the shame, and fear of rejection keep so many believers of incarcerated family suffering in silence. The believers that I have met prefer to remain anonymous rather than to risk more suffering from the body of Christ.
To my fellow members in the church, I ask you to help me change this. I had reached out to prison ministries, but I learned that they are inundated with requests and sadly, I fell through the cracks of several of them. Therefore, I ask you, the church to help fill in the gap and set up private prayer meetings in your place of fellowship to minister to the families of prisoners. A safe place that we feel welcome and free from criticism. We already feel there is much more we could of and should of done in our circumstances. Ask the families what needs they have as the needs vary from household to household and seek the Lord’s guidance on how to help them.
Another thing, I have asked the body of Christ to write my son notes and cards, especially on holidays and his birthday. Those notes of encouragement to a prisoner mean so much as they then realize that the outside world has not forgotten them.
Therefore, I also ask you the church, that once you identify families of prisoners in your congregation, to write to those who are in prison as if they are a member of your church on a regular basis. This can be sermon notes and highlights, monthly newsletters, or tracts to name a few options. Then perhaps they will know that the body of Christ has not forgotten them. I ask you to take them into your flock and minister to them through letters.
Lastly church family, I want you to know it is okay to ask me about my son. When we run into each other, please do not feel you have to skirt around the topic or avoid it. Send the messages, texts, and emails with your questions. It blesses me to know that you have not forgotten my son. Even though my son resides in a prison, he is still my son and very much a part of my life. I want the opportunity to share the good things God is working out through this season or to briefly share my struggles and prayer needs.
I thank God for Christ who is the head of the church and the church body who has helped equip me and my family for this unexpected journey in more ways than I can ask or imagine. May our Lord and Savior continue to use you in mighty ways and guide you to help families of prisoners and their loved ones behind bars. God bless you.
Additional reading on An Unexpected Journey:
© 2014 Shonda Savage