Today’s guest blogger, Melinda Viergever Inman is the author of the new novel Refuge. She serves in a prison ministry, and today she’s sharing how her own story of brokenness intersects with the women she meets in prison.
The morning sun gleams on the razor wire. As we exit our cars near the prison yard, we hear the fourteen- to twenty-year-old inmates talking smack to a guard. Disciplinary action is brewing. They haven’t learned yet.
Inside we navigate the weekly routine of paperwork, newly changed rules, manifests, searches, pat-downs, safety devices, and cataloging of our personal effects. This process transports us through three locked-down security doors and multiple armed guards. And then we’re in, one with the prison population.
Every week our team enters the state penitentiary to shepherd imprisoned women through a Christian twelve-step program. We bring the best news in human history to women who long for good news: “No matter what you’ve done, Jesus wants you. His arms are open wide. Though everyone else forgets you, Jesus sees you in this place, and he loves you with a love that cost him his life.”
The harvest is plentiful.
We come to the prison because Jesus has a heart for broken people, and we have his heart beating in us. God forgives us, picks us up, and puts us back together over and over again. We know it, and we want them to know it, too.
Most of our team has traveled a road of tragedies and life experiences that we never would have chosen. Each endured unique circumstances that broke her heart and gave her compassion for other hurting people. For me, the path included sexual assault at age thirteen, the brokenness of handling it in silence, teen pregnancy, early marriage, a temper, parenting mistakes, and a bout of hardcore legalism as I tried to clean myself up.
Because God is merciful, he patiently and relentlessly works on my character, causing me to love him and to grow to be more like Jesus. Ridding me of my rigid and hypocritical religion has been his most persistent cleansing. I can’t live a godly life in my own strength by following bullet points and rules. No one can.
I am a redeemed prodigal, a lost girl who has been found. I still run from God in large and in subtle ways. I’m often angry at what he allows to touch my life. Of course, he always comes after me and woos me back. And I return. I yield. He’s irresistible.
God has planted within me a deep realization of my need for Christ alone. He continues to help me discover just how broken I am. If I weren’t so arrogant and hard-hearted, it wouldn’t take me so long to learn these lessons!
I am exactly like the women in prison. So are you.
We remind them of this every week. Everyone struggles. We have the same temptations. We could be the ones sitting in prison.
In prison, the facade has been stripped away. Incarcerated women have done something that has brought them to the end of themselves. And if the first time wasn’t enough, they’re back again. They’ve hit the bottom, and they know everything has to change.
When a woman voluntarily signs up for a Christian 12-step program in prison, she is wise enough to understand that she is powerless and her life is out of control (Step 1). She lays it all out there openly, and she means business.
In our program around 85% of the women have been sexually assaulted, usually as children or pre-teens. Most have difficult family histories. There’s a reason they ended up in prison. There are causative realities over which they had no control that we are prepared to walk through with them. They come with messy and wounded sexuality.
And where was God, they wonder? Can they trust him? And how can he possibly fix their mess? We comfort them with the same comfort God has given us in our messes.
All are welcome. All. No one is turned away. We tell them about Jesus. He finally has their attention. Over and over again, we hear the same story: God has brought them to prison to find him. They know it. It took this final breaking to see their need.
As we go through the 26-week program, the women bless us with their transparency, and we share our failings with them. I wish every believer in Christ could honestly address his or her broken places. The church would be more beautiful and less off-putting.
My brokenness, these women, and their prison experiences shaped my first novel.
Refuge is the story of Cain, his sister-wife Lilith (yes, that Lilith), and their brother Abel. Cain commits a crime. From firsthand experience I know what the tangled relationships and the remorse of a murderer look like.
How would Cain feel about killing his own brother? What would this look like? What would it do to his family? I’ve witnessed this as women share their stories.
Often the most heinous tragedy of our lives is the turning point, the breakthrough, the crux of God turning us toward himself. Just like our broken lives, because of God’s compassion, my novel doesn’t go the way you expect.
This is a story birthed from heartache, brokenness, and a deep personal awareness of God’s mercy and unmerited grace. His mercy in the prison, in my family, and to me—a seriously flawed sinner, was the catalyst.
Just how far does God’s mercy go in my tale? You’ll have to read Refuge to find out. What will our merciful God forgive? It’s always abundantly far above and beyond our expectations.
About Today’s Guest Blogger
Melinda Viergever Inman is a prodigal with a passion to write. She authors fiction illustrating God’s love for wounded people, including her new novel Refuge. She shepherds women in church and in prison ministry. She writes inspirational material and bible studies. With her family, she is involved in an Indian-founded church-planting ministry in Asia: RIMI at www.rimi.org