Grayson and I left with a team last Saturday morning at 6 am headed to the mountains of West Virginia for a mission trip to a birthing center for female prisoners, where women convicted of a federal crime can spend up to 18 months with their child if they're pregnant while incarcerated. Last year was our first year, but most of the girls were new, the facility had a new director and our mission team had changed a bit, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew, however that God would use us and we would be blessed in return.
Before leaving, I planned for a craft we would do with the women. By far, the best craft I found was this magnetic board from Madigan Made. I was looking for something unique, but also fun and useful - and not too expensive. It was obvious that God was in it from the beginning. I found burner covers for 11 cents a piece on clearance at a dollar store! 11 cents! We decided to give them the option to add Scripture to theirs if they chose. I'm happy to say they did. Some even added pictures of their babies - they're all so creative! Here is a picture of the finished product...
Did I mention that I've never gotten carsick until I was on this trip last year? Take a look at this picture and you may get an idea of why I got sick. This is on the road between the church we stayed at and the birthing center.
This trip is different than any other mission trip I've been on. It's more relaxed and relational. We cook for them and eat with them everyday, then do crafts and sometimes play games. This year, a few new mission team members brought supplies for manicures, pedicures and facials. What an awesome way to bond with one another! Most mission trips, you're busy trying to get the Gospel out, either by VBS or revival or something similar, and a few relationships are built as a result. If you're ministering in a place where they may never hear God's Word, this is crucial, but there is a local pastor who brings a sermon to these women every Sunday, then ministers to them during the week. They're hearing, they just need to witness it being lived out in more people, and they need to experience the love of Christ from believers. This trip is designed to be about the relationship itself, and as a result of building that relationship, we can talk about Jesus more easily. Let's face it, people aren't knocking down prison doors with the intention of getting to know the inmates. John, who heads up the trip is in contact with the center all year and tries to find churches for them in their hometowns after they leave. We try to stay in touch with them, even befriending them on Facebook in many cases. One of the women told me some mission teams never sit to chat or bring a meal when they come, they only preach a revival, then leave. No contact or conversation, just preaching. Jesus didn't do it that way. He ate with people and got to know them by asking them questions and they followed Him and watched how He lived.
One of the best parts of the trip is rocking babies. Grayson has become quite the little helper (along with the other young girls that went). I got a picture of her with a different baby every half hour! I love that she and I can minister together on this trip. When we first arrived at the birthing center, a mom who was there last year gave me a hug and immediately asked me where my daughter was. I instantly knew she was making an impact on these women and I was glad she got to be a part of it.
While making friends and holding babies is always fun, my anxieties came from what we were to do the last day. The last few years, a lady from Arkansas has joined us on the trip and she has given a tea party for the inmates. She does a fabulous job and it has become one of their favorites. She wasn't able to join us this year because she was in Chile on a mission trip, so I filled in. The lady that gave it, Mrs. Kay, is full of grace and charm and .....well, frankly I'm not:) Many prayers were said regarding this tea party. While it seems silly to stress, we give it on the last day, so relationships are established and we have a "captive audience" (as was said this week!) to give a devotion to during the tea party. The girls were very respectful and listened intently. I couldn't have asked for anything more. As you can see, we brought crazy hats for them to keep as a reminder. We also bought tea cups at a thrift store to serve the tea in and left those with them too.
I know Mrs. Kay would have done a much better job, but all in all, I think it went well. Hopefully she blessed the ladies in Chile with a tea party:)
Once again I was amazed at how "normal" the women are. They're great moms and this is a wonderful opportunity to bond with their babies. All of them would probably be working moms and wouldn't have the opportunity otherwise to spend the first year with their baby. A lot of these women have made one or two bad decisions to get them there, but haven't we all? While most of my mistakes haven't been illegal, they have been stupid! I could relate with most of these girls. While a few were guilty of white collar crimes and came from wonderful families, some were guilty of theft or drugs (but all non-violent crimes), it's unbelievable how prison brings them together. Friendships are formed between women that would never cross paths outside of these walls. God works in amazing ways! They are there, sometimes with no visits from family, yet when I try to give them encouragement, it's me that goes away encouraged. I was reminded of times I've started down a wrong path always to have God put a road block in my way so I would turn to Him. Hopefully this birthing center or their time in prison has been a road block that will cause these women to turn to Him and trust Him fully. I can't wait to see how God works in the lives of these women and babies!
"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:36