Learn to Help Inmates Experience Spiritual ‘Freedom’

Date Posted: 1/23/2014

Christ United Methodist Church leader Betty Waedemon has ‘served time’ in the Texas prison system – over 11 years, in fact. As Christ UMC’s Prison Ministry Chairperson, Betty spends time with inmates in a weekly Alpha Bible class, and has witnessed lives changing right before her eyes. “When you really think about it, true crime prevention is bringing people to Christ,” she shares.

One prison ministry volunteer summarizes the experience this way: “Last Thursday night at our Alpha class at the Carol Vance Unit, we discussed what our childhoods and parents were like. I wanted to cry after listening to these men talk about being abused, ignored, and raising themselves.  For the first time in their lives they are experiencing a Father who loves them.  It is not a concept that comes easily to them. I am not there to teach them theology, doctrine, or even the Bible…I am there to love them. For this reason, I receive so much more that I could ever give.  These hurting men come to trust and love the
volunteers…for many of them, it is the
first time that they have trusted anyone.”
Since the Texas prison system has an inmate population of over 40,000, there is great need for more Alpha facilitators and friendly faces to share God’s love. “Everyone is qualified to do prison ministry if they have the ability to love. Just the fact that we show up each week speaks volumes to the inmates,” she says. “The small groups watch videos and discuss the life application, and we are primarily listeners helping to model accountability and positive, trusting relationships. The discussion time literally seems to fly by, week after week – it is so rewarding!” She is particularly proud of the fact that the Carol Vance Unit near Christ UMC is the only prison in the world that allows family members to join the inmates for Alpha class each week. “Alpha is like Christianity 101 basics, and it is an easy vehicle to transform lives and entire families.”
Restorative Justice Ministry Weekend: A National Kickoff
Betty and other RJM leaders are encouraging churches across the Texas Annual Conference to mobilize volunteers and teams to get involved in this first step: attending the training and RJM orientation at Christ United Methodist Church in Sugar Land on February 22-23. “It’s a big deal when Jim Liske, the President of Prison Fellowship Ministries and Rev. Paul Cowley, international head of Alpha come to Texas,” she adds, “and when you add Madeline Ortiz, who heads up the Rehab Division at TDCJ in Huntsville, you have a Don't-Miss Event!”
“This will be the national kickoff as we join forces with churches and volunteers to be more strategic about impacting the prison return rate,” says Jack Cowley Alpha Houston, who is collaborating with Prison Fellowship Ministries and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to generate more opportunities for area churches to bring hope to prisons and also reduce the area crime rate. Paul, who is a retired warden, believes Christians can help create a culture in the prison that will reduce the darkness. “Inmates get tired of the lifestyle they are living in prison and they find great hope in faith,” he says. “We also want to train churches how to disciple ex-offenders once they are released. That hand off to the church is critical in reducing repeat offenders. Church leaders must realize that ministry to those who have been released can be challenging, particularly if a mentor or volunteer is called at 2 am by your ex-offender’s wife asking you to pull his drunken self out of the local crack house. Not a pretty sight, but it could be part of the discipleship process.”
Mountaintop Experience
“We have about 50 members involved in prison ministry and it has been invigorating for our church,” adds Betty, “so I know the day of training and visioning promises to be inspiring and the RJM Sunday Celebration will be a sight to behold! Carol Vance Unit inmates will be leading prayer, reading Scripture and their Winds of Change choir will provide special music.” Many, like Johnny, will thank you.

“In 2005 I came up for parole yet again…so I started taking classes to look good for them and to make them think I was doing the right things.  One of the classes was ALPHA.  It was a Christian based class with all the “Jesus-Freaks” that harassed me into signing a prayer request that ended up changing every aspect of my miserable life! My life’s desire is to go out to the free world churches and share the story of the faithful “13:3” Christians, as I call all the people who come into the prisons to share GOD’S love with us “throw-aways” here in prison!  Hebrews 13:3 “remember the prisoners” to be a light that comes out of a world of hate and shame and let the LORD’S light shine.”
Register at www.alphausa.org/houstonoffensive.
The event begins at 8:30 Saturday, lunch is free, and the (optional) tour of the nearby Carol Vance Unit will be held in the late afternoon. 
See detailed brochure.
Address questions to Betty Waedemon at bbw1m@aol.com or  (314-607-8850) LouRonnaRichardson@alphausa.org. Christ UMC is located at 3300 Austin Pkwy in Sugar Land