Elmbrook Stories

Kingdom Come: To Prison

January 11, 2015 by Jeanine Bly in Serving
Tags: kingdom come, ministry, prison, serving, women
Kingdom Come: To Prison

Kingdom Come: To Prison

Bringing His Light Into a Dark World

“Kingdom Come” — our 2014 Harvestfest theme — is a phrase, a concept and a prayer that has been studied, prayed about and taken on deep meaning to the Elmbrook family over the past several months. Helping to have the kingdom come to what can be a dark place is the prayer and goal of a small group from Elmbrook Church who weekly take the study of God’s Word inside the Robert E. Ellsworth Correction Center in Union Grove.

Sharon Davis, along with her husband Ron and two other women, Gail Bryant and Heather Hoffman, lead a Bible study every Tuesday evening for women at the correctional center. Sharon and her husband have been part of Elmbrook since 1975, shortly after they were married and moved to the area.

Over their years at Elmbrook the Davises have served in many different ministries including small groups (Life Groups), teaching new member classes, missions and discipleship. Their current passion is prison ministry, which Ron has been involved with for more than 20 years.

The ministry can be difficult logistically, as each facility has different rules. Sharon and Ron had been going to the Union Grove facility for several years with another couple when due to the low number of women attending they decided to stop for a while. Many of the women participants had started going into certain programs for addictions and other reasons so they weren’t allowed to be with the general population and attend the Bible study anymore. Last December the chaplain from the prison contacted them and said the opportunity to lead a study was once again possible.

"We feel like the blessed ones.” — Sharon Davis

There are unique challenges to conducting a Bible study in a prison. All volunteers who enter this facility must go through a special orientation, and men can only go in if they are accompanied by women. The reading level of many of the women in the facility is low. In addition, there was now a rule that no property (books) could go in or come out, and no staples were allowed in papers. So this time, instead of using their previous curriculum, the team decided to use the weekly sermon questions from Elmbrook.  

There are usually 10-12 women inmates who join them each week, but the group changes frequently and the turnover is high. The women have different programs they are involved in, such as addiction or anger classes, as well as parole opportunities and other events that change the group composition.

The weekly sermon question discussions often lead to spontaneous testimonies being shared. “It happens all the time," Sharon says. "Discussion stimulates them to remember spiritual things.” One inmate shared how she was attempting suicide when a guard found her during an unusual time to make rounds and got her medical help. She went on to share how now she sees God working in her life in many different ways since that miraculous time.

In October, when the Elmbrook congregation was going through the book of Colossians and talking about being “in Christ,” Pastor Jason shared his personal mouse example of how we need to get at sin aggressively in our lives and not be passive about it. The women in the facility really could relate to that and there was excellent discussion that followed. 

Another discussion that really hit home for the women was the cycle of defeat.  They really related to the idea they need to surrender to God and let Christ work in them. “Light bulbs went on all over the room. The women realized they were not slaves to their sin habits,” said Sharon. “As we left that night I got chills thinking about it. The Holy Spirit was powerfully working in the women that night and I got to be part of it!” 

Sharon wanted to be sure to let readers know that their small Tuesday evening group is always looking for more people to join them in going to the Union Grove facility. She said she sees two distinct prongs to their ministry. One is being sure that as discussions create questions, they clearly present the gospel message if it is clear that a woman hasn’t yet given her life to Christ.

The second is shoring up and encouraging the believing inmates in the facility for the difficult work they have been called to do in that place as salt and light. Sharon said supporting and praying for them through this time is critical, as the Christian inmates realize they are being watched and it is often difficult to be salt and light in such a dark place.

Prayer requests are written down on 3 x 5 cards and Sharon and her group let the women know they and their unique requests will be prayed for outside the walls of the facility, not only by them but also by a dedicated group of prayer warriors from the area.

Sharon and her group all have full-time jobs and are busy people, yet make the time to be obedient to God’s calling to bring his light to a dark world. “These women are hungry and we are very privileged to be there," Sharon says. "We feel like the blessed ones.”

Jeanine Bly, a member of Elmbrook for several years, enjoys using her writing in different ministries. Jeanine is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Parkinson Association in downtown Milwaukee. When she is not writing she enjoys reading, spending time outdoors hiking, camping and playing tennis as well as traveling to visit her three grown children.