“Gulp! Did I really sign up for this!” I thought nervously as I walked through the white-washed halls of the county jail. The jail chaplain and one of the deputies took a group of us through the sterile rooms, showing where the inmates were housed and explaining a few other jail procedures so we would know what to expect. In just a few weeks I would be entering the jail with a team of 3 others to start a Bible study in “Unit 2,” a housing composed of a mix of medium to high security women.
To be honest, I never thought I’d be doing jail ministry. Ever. Children’s ministry and girl's discipleship are definitely more up my alley in terms of what I’m drawn to naturally. However, when the opportunity to be part of a jail ministry team popped up I thought, “Well, I’ll apply and then pray if that is what God wants me to do.” Leading up to this point I had been pondering the fact that God’s heart extends far beyond simply the kind of ministries that I was comfortable with. He has a heart for all the different ministries—children’s, women’s, men’s, jail, homeless, inner city, tribal, etc. That means, if I am stepping forward in His will, I can trust that He will give His heart for exactly what He is calling me to do, whether I feel naturally inclined to do it or not.
With those thoughts swirling my mind as I applied for the jail position, I still thought “well, I wouldn’t be shocked if this doesn’t pan out, or if God doesn’t actually want me to do this.” Because of that reasoning, it was a surprise to me when a few weeks later it seemed pretty clear that, yes, I was supposed to be a part of the team. Oh boy! What had I just got myself into!
As preparations began to move forward with the team, and we planned out how to start this new ministry, I still didn’t feel a particular love for what I was about to do. However, it seemed clear that God really was directing me to move forward in this. I reminded myself that if He was the one calling, then He would give a love for the women in His timing. Though those early stages of planning were exciting, they were also very much a step of faith—faith that God would give the heart of compassion needed. I didn’t know the women, and I didn’t know what it would look like, but I did know my God.
I knew that He is a God who, "gives freedom to the prisoners” (Psalm 146:7). He is a God who gives the command to His people to, "heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). With that in mind, though I didn’t feel the emotional “call” to be doing jail ministry, I knew that setting the captives free is part of His agenda. If it was His work, He’d give the love.
Looking back at that time leading up to the start of jail ministry, I certainly can remember my knees knocking together with nervous anticipation. However, I can also attest that God has given a great compassion for the women. It is incredible to see how it is His heart and His love working inside of me to care for them, since I know that I had no natural affection on my own.
Do you feel as though God is calling you to step out into uncharted territory? Even if the path is unfamiliar, I encourage you to step forward in faith. If God is the One calling you, He will equip you with exactly what is needed, whether that be providing for your practical needs, or by giving you His heart for what He is calling you to do.