Feature

The Father’s Heart

Connecting the Broken with the Healer

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I once assumed we stumbled upon our prison work by accident. There was no strategic decision by our team to begin such an endeavor; no needs assessment was done. I’d never spent any time behind prison walls, not even as a visitor.

But I’ve come to believe this avenue of ministry was heaven-orchestrated. God cares deeply for the lost, and included among His sheep are the wounded, overlooked, and outcast.

As I reflect, I can see how God led my teammate and me to begin our prison work and a preventative program in our community for girls at risk. He’s brought into our lives girls who have experienced tremendous heartache and injustice, often reaping the fallout of poor choices. Their souls need healing.

Ravi Zacharias has said, “You’ll never get to a person’s soul until you understand their hurts.” This rings true with our work. Trust takes time to build, and with deeply wounded souls, it first takes demonstrating compassion and addressing brokenness in people’s lives and communities before they’ll find true transformation and healing in Jesus.

On Trial

I have met some beautiful souls behind iron bars. Their stories would make you weep. Prison is where I first met Fatoumata. She is from a people group that gives their daughters in marriage at a young age. Fatoumata doesn’t know how old she is, but my guess is she was around 15 when she was given as a second wife in an arranged marriage. Fatoumata told me he was old like her grandfather. Shortly after the marriage, she ran away.

Fatoumata found work in our city as a house girl. She was responsible for washing clothes, sweeping the home and courtyard, and other manual labor that is still a part of daily life in West Africa. Her employer was in charge of some funds for multiple parties, and when money went missing, she blamed Fatoumata.

When Fatoumata was arrested and taken to prison, she repeatedly professed her innocence. The authorities didn’t believe her. They beat her and shocked her wrists until she confessed. We thought Fatoumata was exaggerating her story until we saw the bruises on her body and wounds becoming scabs.

It wasn’t long before her physical wounds healed, but it was evident to us the hurts of her heart festered: hopelessness, desperation, shame, and fear. That’s what we’d see on her face when we visited.

Made New

I’ve never felt at ease behind prison bars; I assume that’s a normal feeling. There is always a heightened sense of caution as some of our girls have violent tendencies. I felt anger at the injustice shown to Fatoumata and helplessness when there was nothing I could do about it.

“God,” I’ve cried, “couldn’t You have led me to reach lost souls that aren’t quite so broken?” Yet, didn’t Jesus kick start His earthly ministry by claiming for Himself Isaiah’s mission?

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed” (Luke 4:18).

Jesus longs for our girls to have opportunity to hear that by His death and Resurrection they can be made new, find healing from a past of brokenness, and know that through Him there is hope for this life and the one to come.

Prayer is an important part of our prison work. It calms the loud, chaotic environment and softens the girls’ demeanors. As they lift their burdens and cares to a loving Father, they once again begin to hope. In our little prison gatherings, Fatoumata always had the same request: “Pray for justice in my case and that I get out of prison soon.”

Glory Revealed

Every year on our country’s Independence Day the president pardons a handful of prisoners. Would you believe that he chose Fatoumata out of hundreds to be pardoned?

I was a bit surprised when I heard the news. Deep down, where I hide all my un-missionary-like thoughts, I never really expected Fatoumata to get her miracle. It wasn’t that I didn’t think God could do it. But why would He? Why would God choose to reveal His glory in such a powerful way to someone of such little influence—a nobody?

God needed to remind me once again for whom His heart beats. Did the Son of Man not come to seek and save the lost? Is He not willing that any should perish? Are the least of these not included?

Precious Fatoumata will never be much loved by this world, but she’s worth dying for in her Father’s eyes. He found her worthy of a miracle. He dirtied His hands to meddle in the nightmare that is this country’s justice system. Because He saw her.

Finding Hope

It’s been four years since we “stumbled” upon our prison ministry. While it’s rarely easy, I’ve come to see the privilege it is to have a calling that resonates with the Father’s heart: to show mercy, demonstrate compassion, and love the unlovely.

Jesus was drawn to the destitute, the weary, the sinner, the sick, the ones the world overlooked.

You know they are everywhere, right? The unseen ones. The ones whose stories are too painful, their circumstances too difficult to address, easier just to ignore.

How many lives would be transformed if we lived as His anointed ones called to give generously to those in need, to show compassion to those who are struggling, and to help the ones the world overlooks?

Fatoumata’s miracle ushered God’s presence into our prison work. When our girls despair, when it seems all hope is lost, we remind them of Fatoumata’s miracle, because He sees them too.

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