Helping Former Women Inmates – a ‘Kingdom Assignment’

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CHICAGO, IL (September 10, 2009) – This is the fourth in a five-part series on Criminal Justice and the Church. The article, written by news editor Stan Friedman, originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of The Covenant Companion.

By Stan Friedman

When Oakdale Covenant Church Pastor Darrell Griffin gave Lisa Caridine $100 and a “kingdom assignment” to do something meaningful for others with the money, she knew one thing – she was not happy. What she didn’t know was that her life was about to change.

“I was kind of taken aback,” she recalls of that day in 2002.  “It was like another thing to do.” Beside, she adds, “At the time, I didn’t think I was up to the assignment. “I thought ‘I am a kingdom assignment.’”

Caridine had no idea about how she should use the money, but Griffin had told the handful of people to whom he gave the funds that they should pray about it.

“I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know how I was going to fit.”

“I prayed five days before I knew what to do,” she says. She came to believe God was directing her to help Black on Black Love, an organization that helps women who have been incarcerated. Caridine didn’t know much more than that about BOBL, but she had heard it mentioned a couple of times in previous years.

She called the organization and told the woman on the other end of the phone that “I was on a kingdom assignment and I wanted to plant a seed.” Caridine thought the woman would think her odd, but she understood and extended an invitation to visit the offices.

Deciding to give more than money, Caridine spent a year checking into different BOBL programs that include motivational programs in the Cook County Jail, community outreach programs, and more recently a mentoring program for males. Caridine liked what she saw. “I didn’t see just another program getting funds. I could see God at work.” Still, she adds, “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know how I was going to fit.”

A labor attorney with the Chicago Public Schools, Caridine figured she probably would do administrative work – “something in my comfort zone.” Eventually she became a mentor to a single mother in her mid-30s as part of BOBL’s “My Sister’s Keeper” program. The woman had several years of college, “but she had made some bad decisions” and wound up in jail.

Seven years later, Caridine serves on the board of directors of BOBL. She has helped the organization draw in funding from a greater variety of sources and connected it with Oakdale Covenant and Wellspring Center for Hope, a Covenant ministry to victims of domestic violence. Her family members also have become involved. Her mother Pearl Robertson, is the chairperson for the mentoring outreach, and her aunt Edna Toney does mentoring.

“It has blessed me. It helped me find healing and purpose.”

Many of the women served by BOBL are desperate for change but struggle to believe a new life is possible, especially when others have lost faith in them. “Their families have given up on them; their friends have given up on them,” Caridine says. She adds that part of her task is to get the women “to look to God despite how the world looks down upon them. You have to get the women to have hope.” It is important, she adds, to help the women understand that the past does not determine their destiny.

BOBL provides counseling and other services through organizations such as Wellspring to help the women get housing, learn life skills, heal, and obtain jobs. Mentors primarily befriend the women or act as “big sisters” and help them through the process, oftentimes just listening. “Many of the women have never had a healthy relationship,” Caridine says.

Eventually, the women and mentors are both changed by their relationships. Caridine says the women have told her, “I can’t believe you said you got something from me.” She has received far more than she ever expected, explaining, “It has blessed me. It helped me find healing and purpose.”

That purpose has led her to now serve on the Compassion, Mercy, and Justice Commission of the Central Conference. She also plans to get a Certificate in Justice Ministries. Caridine now encourages others to do what may feel uncomfortable and unsure whether they possess the necessary skills. “Unless you step out, you will never know.”

Caridine says that before that day in 2002, she had been a “do-gooder.” She did volunteer work at various times. “But I didn’t do it with a kingdom perspective.” She had not become so deeply involved.

“This has been a journey,” Caridine says. She has learned she was right about herself when Griffin gave her the money. She has been a kingdom assignment.

Editor’s note: During this year’s Annual Meeting, the Christian Action Commission presented a draft resolution on Criminal Justice that will be voted on during next year’s Annual Meeting. Local churches and individuals are encouraged to read and discuss the draft resolution and provide feedback to the commission no later than October 1. Click here to read the resolution. Feedback may be submitted by email to the commission by clicking here. For more information on the commission and its work, click here.

To read previous articles in the series, select below:

Criminal Justice Awareness Week Is Here

How Does Criminal Justice System Treat Inmates?

Prison Not ‘Off Limits’ to Power of Gospel

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