by Nancy Sneller, Pastor at Bay Covenant Church, WI
Bay Covenant Church located in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is ideally located for ministry—a university campus, a homeless shelter, and the Brown County jail are all found in our immediate neighborhood.
Our participation in jail ministry started several years ago when Pastor Sumit Sen, our pastor at the time, became chaplain at the Brown County jail. Under his leadership, we held Sunday worship services at the jail once a month and began a weekly Tuesday afternoon Bible study with women inmates. Pastor Sumit has since moved on to pastor at a different Covenant church, but we have been able to maintain the ministry including worship services and Bible study at the Brown County jail. As we studied Scripture together, we became aware of the difficulties inmates endure upon their release as they adjust to living in the community. We felt God calling us to try to alleviate some of those difficulties by extending grace during those initial days after release. We are grateful for grants provided by LMDJ and the Central Conference that have helped to provide a variety of types of financial assistance to inmates upon their release. The needs of each woman are unique. So far, we have purchased or provided everything from cell phones to shampoo, work shoes to snow boots and bus passes to train tickets. We have provided transportation to doctor’s appointments, detox centers, homeless shelters, and most happily, to church! We are so grateful that as part of this ministry God has granted us the opportunity to build relationships, share the Gospel, and enfold some of the women into the life of our church.
We met Aja during our weekly Bible Study meetings at Brown County Jail. During incarceration she lost contact with her teenage son and her two young daughters. She received a letter from her mom which completely severed what was already a poor relationship. Aja’s father died while she was in jail, and she was especially distraught because was not allowed to leave jail to attend the funeral. She attended Bible study and Celebrate Recovery groups throughout her incarceration and there was introduced to Jesus. Aja was recently released from Brown County jail. She was reunited with her son, but had to make new arrangements for his schooling. She got a third shift job so she was not available to help him get off to school in the morning. Her daughters are staying in Milwaukee, so she used her first pay check to buy a bus ticket to visit them on the weekend. Initially Aja stayed with relatives, but after a week or two that living situation was no longer available. She and her teenage son were temporarily homeless. She called in a panic, saying that she had nowhere to go. Using Grace in the Gap funds we were able to provide for an extended stay at a motel close to her son’s school. At her request, we provided personal hygiene items and a Celebrate Recovery Bible. At the current time she is staying with different relatives, but needs to find affordable housing as soon as possible.
Our challenge is to maintain contact with Aja, inviting her into a long-term friendly relationship. As a single mom, she faces overwhelming circumstances. Her faith in Jesus is very new, and no one in her immediate environment is a Christian. We pray that God will give us opportunity for continued spiritual, emotional, and financial support.
True shalom is found in God’s grace, and our mission is to allow God’s grace to flow into the lives of the women we serve. Incarceration and the early days of release are filled with anxiety. Our ministry is to help alleviate that high level of anxiety and replace it with a sense of peace and security. Grace in the Gap is one small part of the efforts of the entire community to work together, and so we feel that as we cooperate with community resources we are in a small way, contributing to shalom.
We have encountered a huge learning curve as work continues through Grace in the Gap. We have learned first of all, that the time gap between incarceration and community living is much more than a matter of days; it can be a matter of months and years. We have learned that each person we serve brings with them a complex system of spiritual, societal, emotional, and family brokenness and for that, there is no quick fix. We have learned that issues of justice are often apparent regarding both incarceration, probation, and reentry into community living, and that a part of the ministry of Grace in the Gap is to advocate on behalf of the women we serve.
Please join with us in prayers of gratitude for the opportunities God gives us and for the financial support of the LMDJ grant contributors. Please pray for the inmates at Brown County Jail, for the ministry that occurs within the jail, and for wisdom as we minister outside of the jail through Grace in the Gap.