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A Warden, a Woman, and a Wake-up Call

by Ashley Couey, missionary-athlete and co-coach, Southeast Lady Saints

I want to share about our visit to Whitworth Women’s Facility this summer, and I have probably made this statement a few times over my seven years with the ministry, but this was, BY FAR, the most amazing prison visit of my life!

Being very transparent, I have been struggling personally with a few pretty big things this year. Normally I just push through times like this, but these challenges have left me feeling overwhelmed. So, to set the stage, that was the mindset at the beginning of the day. In addition, we normally have one of the Saints’ staff members or a pastor accompany us on each trip but due to an unusual set of circumstances, that did not happen on this trip.

On the way into the facility, my teammate, co-coach, and best friend Stacy and I saw the warden, an old friend from another GA women’s prison. It was good to catch up with her and share thoughts on the difference between the two facilities.

As we were talking to the warden, a woman being released that day came out with a bag and a smile on her face. Beaming, she looked at the warden and said, “I want to thank you so much for everything, particularly that you encouraged me to get my education. I never would have done that without you.” But it wasn’t enough that the warden had shown some interest…the fact is that the warden was the ONLY person to show some interest!

Her mom won’t take her back in – even temporarily – so the car waiting at the curb was to take her to a homeless shelter. These are the stories the public NEVER hears. The bad and the ugly get the headlines, but a simple act of genuine concern goes unnoticed…except to that woman.

Suffice it to say…my world may now be forever different as I look at it through this new lens. This ex-offender had real joy about her future, even though she walked out that door with nothing to her name and no one waiting for her to return.

Some moments just are life changing and this was one of them. I realize how much I complain when circumstances do not go my way. But #1…I know Jesus! I also have people who love me; I am clean, fed, have a place to call home; I have a great job and a litany of other things that are true blessings. She left with none of that! She was thrilled simply to be clean right then – and it was already hot, so that was temporary – yet her primary emotion was to be GRATEFUL. I cannot even tell you what it meant to encounter this woman and I think I have needed that for a while. Maybe you can relate…you catch yourself missing the blessings in your life because the focus is on what you don’t have or experience, instead of what you do have.

Please notice – our visit was just beginning! We played a great game of softball, and even though we won by a landslide the inmates were all smiles all morning. Then my friends, Jess and Ashley, shared the love of Jesus through their testimony and a Gospel message.

We also had the opportunity to personally spend time and pray for inmates one on one. Y’all, I had no idea but one of the inmates asked me to pray for her, so I prayed to Jesus for her and she THANKED me – then told me she was a professing Muslim. It was like being in a different universe…seriously!

Our team then had the rare privilege of eating lunch in their chow hall with the inmates’ softball team! I sat with my other best friend Julie and two inmates named Joanna and Jessica who had a kid the same age as one of mine (just another coincidence, I’m sure!). We had a great conversation about their lives and their hopes and their future AND JESUS!

Turns out that Jessica has a smart mouth (good thing my teammates aren’t commenting here!) and so her and I talked smack the entire afternoon game. She kept yelling “easy out!” when I would come up to bat, and I in turn thoroughly enjoyed telling her that I was so sorry I couldn’t deliver that easy out as I crossed the plate about five times that game. We won that game too…but the score didn’t matter.

The whole day was amazing. We shared the hope of Jesus, our own stories, and discussed how life does not have to be a repeat cycle. We played a lot of softball, talked a lot of trash (in good fun of course), and built some relationships that will not soon be forgotten.

“Your words, your time commitments, your finances, your emotional highs and lows, your relationships, and your spiritual habits together form a portrait of what is really valuable to you.” – Paul Jeon

Inside the Mind of Gibby…

gibbyThis is the first installment of Inside the Mind of Gibby, a recurring column in The Insider.  Using a style all his own Tom Gibson, coach of our IL Saints softball team, offers you a peek into some of the lesser known aspects of being “on the road” with our teams.  Enjoy!

 Remove the Sharp Objects from the Room!

One of my least favorite things in life is when a good idea does not turn out as planned.  As I sat looking at my notes for the Saints team Bible study that I was attempting to lead that evening, I realized that the discussion amongst my Saints teammates had nothing to do with what I originally planned to talk about!

One of the best aspects of going on a Saints Crusade is the daily team devotions.  After we visit a prison we will usually eat dinner and return to the hotel.  We will typically meet in the breakfast area of the hotel and have a Bible study before we get some rest.  These are great times to learn and study God’s Word as a team.

The topic for this particular evening was the beatitudes in Matthew 5.  I had heard an excellent sermon from one of my favorite authors, Kyle Idleman, and decided that I would use some of his material for the devotions on this particular Saints Crusade.  I did my research and prepared not only the devotions but handouts so that each of my teammates could follow along and perhaps appreciate my hard work even more!

The thought process and terminology that flowed so well from Kyle Idleman’s sermon fell flat as I presented it.  I would bring up what I thought was a life changing discussion question only to hear the sound of crickets amongst the awkward silence.  As we moved along in the devotion, I had a clear definition of Matthew 5:3 on my nice professional looking handout, but it seemed like most in the room had a different way of interpreting “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.  The rest of the room was fighting sleep after a long day of softball and prison ministry and had trouble staying engaged.   We soldiered through the devotions during that week but each topic I had brought up had taken a turn into another topic, which turned into another topic, none of which I knew how to tie back together into a beatitudes devotion!

By the fourth night I was planning to lop off a few points so we could get done in around twenty minutes and enjoy the Sunday Night Football game together.  An hour later, the room was still hung up on Matthew 5:10 and what being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” really meant.  At this point my devotion was now officially hijacked and I was trying to figure out if I could slip out of the room and make it to and from the Taco Bell down the street without anyone noticing!

This particular time that I led devotions was a humbling experience but I am thankful for all of the Godly wisdom that was in that room those four nights.  Depending on the text and the topic, crusade devotion conversations will on occasion spill over into parenting and marriage application.  Many topics lead to discussions on how we can serve in our local churches better.  At other times the conversation will turn into some lively discussions on politics or some minor denominational differences.  While these conversations are hard to get back on track and may take us more into the evening than we plan, each devotion time on a Crusade is edifying.  I really enjoy spending time with guys from around the country and hearing their insight on God’s Word.  I am especially thankful when I get to lead a Crusade devotion, even if they don’t turn out the way I plan!

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. “   Proverbs 27:17

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