I was in prison and you visited me

Lyn Turner’s heart was first stirred to bring the love of Jesus to prison inmates when an acquaintance questioned why anybody would want to help prisoners – because “they’re only crims.”

“I thought about how quickly we humans throw stones at people we believe are not up to scratch,” she says.

“I thought of how in biblical times, the stones were hard stones, but nowadays we use words rather than stones. Either way, those words hurt, and they don’t really do anything to change the heart of the person who’s on the receiving end. But on the other hand, if people are shown understanding and love, that does change hearts.”

Over the four years that Lyn has been bringing the gospel of love and forgiveness to inmates of a women’s prison in southeast Queensland, as a volunteer with Inside Out Prison Chaplaincy, she has seen many hearts changed through the power of prayer.

“I try to remember that behind every woman who is in prison, there’s a story and there’s a reason why she is there. Often these accepted lifestyles continue from one generation to the next,” she tells Eternity.

“And when this cycle is broken, and a woman comes to Christ, you realise that possibly a generation has been saved, not just this one woman.”

“This is a huge point in their lives, to realise we are forgiven and that no matter what we’ve done, nothing’s too hard for God.” – Lyn Turner

Lyn cites the example of a woman who started coming to the weekly chapel service just for a break in her routine, but who eventually started to participate in the services; one day, she stayed back after chapel and asked if she could pray with Lyn.

“I don’t think there was a light bulb moment, but I think through gradual change, she realised she was in that place for a reason and that reason was to ‘be still and know that I am God.’ And she really just broke down,” she says.

“Now she has been released and she’s leading a great life, attending a church and is just going forward as a Christian in leaps and bounds – a wonderful mother now, and member of her new community.”

Lyn cherishes the opportunity to explain things about Christianity that she didn’t fully understand herself as a child being brought up in a Christian family.

“It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to support and encourage the women in prison, sharing their joys and sorrows, reading the Bible with them, and praying with them. I am now able to explain things to them that perhaps I would have appreciated to have had explained to me, when I was young.”

When asked what those truths are, she says: “I think the fact that God loves us all whether we’re in prison or not.

“I tend to think that the women who are in prison, even when they get to the point of accepting the fact that they been forgiven, find it difficult to forgive themselves, especially if they’ve hurt their families, if they’ve hurt their children – of course, they’re in prison separated from their children and loved ones.

“This is a huge point in their lives, like I guess it is for all of us women, to realise we are forgiven and that no matter what we’ve done, nothing’s too hard for God. You can have that forgiveness. And if somebody as pure as God can forgive us hey, we can forgive ourselves.

“I am now able to explain things to them that perhaps I would have appreciated to have had explained to me, when I was young.” – Lyn Turner

 

Lyn and Jason – a chaplain who visits a male correctional centre in southeast Queensland – have discovered that jails are just filled with people who are searching for answers to the big questions in life.

“There’s definitely a prison culture there that says, if you need God, it’s a crutch. And a lot of guys tend to want to have the tough exterior, and they don’t want to show weakness in that environment because it can cost you big time,” says Jason, who prefers not to reveal his surname.

“But prison is also an amazing environment as well, because often you’re away from the distractions and you don’t have your kids, sadly, and you don’t have your job, you don’t have to worry about working for your income and you’re away from all your smartphones.

“And so you begin to start asking the big questions. ‘Why am I here? How did I come into existence? Where do I go when I die?’

“So even though there are strong motivations to not seek out the chaplain, not to come to chapel, many of the guys are troubled by these big questions and they secretly come to the chaplain and say, ‘I have these big questions’ and it all starts from there.

“So there is a lot that does stop them, but there’s also a lot that helps draw them to the Lord.”

Over the five years that Jason has been visiting a low-security prison, he has seen many inmates transformed by the love of Christ.

“There’s this one fellow called Luke, who was tracked down by a Christian a few years ago and he didn’t want much to do with the church service. He only came a few times – and he would always snicker at the back – then didn’t come back for a few months after that,” Jason recalls.

“But eventually he started coming regularly and he said that God had just been powerfully talking to him through the Bible. And now he’s one of the most mature Christians we have there. And he himself is going to other men and bringing them to the Lord.”

Jason says he knew that Luke had truly changed when he saw him befriend a Christian brother who was a protection inmate – a prisoner who needs protection from other inmates because of the type of crime he’s committed or because he’s a celebrity.

“The common behaviour in prison is you do not associate with someone from protection. If you do, you get ostracised by your friends, you can have threats, even threats to your life.

“And this one young man befriended this young man from protection, and he accepted all the risks that came with it, even if it might mean homicide or comfortableness in prison, because he considered that relationship more important than not befriending him.”

Jason also witnessed a remarkable transformation in a man with a shoulder and leg injury who would never come to chapel, but whom Jason came to know from his walks through the units.

“He and I became good friends, and we talked, not always about Christian things, but eventually one day in his room, he ended up just breaking down and crying.

“He said, ‘there’s so many people that I can’t forgive. I know what Jesus said about forgiveness, but I cannot forgive these people.’ Eventually, we just journeyed through a process of forgiveness.”

Later that day, after Jason had started the chapel service, this man comes running down to chapel, opens up the door and shouts, “Woo-hoo!”

“We were just shocked to see him at the service. And his arm and leg injury, which he’s had for a few years in prison, he’s no longer got them anymore. He said ‘I’ve forgiven these people from my heart. And now I no longer have my limp or my shoulder injury.’ And he spun around on the spot and jumped up and down, and everyone in the chapel was just clapping and applauding. And then he came to chapel regularly.”

“He said ‘I’ve forgiven these people from my heart. And now I no longer have my limp or my shoulder injury.’” – Jason, sharing story of a prisoner.

Lyn finds it a privilege to share the joys and sorrows of the women she visits, who are heartbroken to be unable to be with and love their children.

“That keeps me going back just to share with these women week by week and to see them develop into stronger women because of this,” she says.

Lyn finds the hardest women to get through to are the more professional ones, who tend to be more critical of the Christian faith.

“Some of the really difficult situations are when you have a highly educated and quite professional person who spends a week reading the Old Testament and then has a whole heap of questions really for you. They might say, you know, ‘God was just stroking his own ego when he did that to Job – he was just having a wager against the devil about Job. What sort of God does that?’. Things like that are difficult to lead this person people away from, because the opportunity for me is there to share the gospel,” she says.

“I do think it works to let these people talk about these things and to get them off their chest. And then after they’re finished talking, even though it might take half an hour for them to give you all the negative sides, then it’s my turn.

“And then I can talk about the positive sides and negate what they’ve been saying it, give them something to think about for next time.”

Lyn believes prison chaplaincy is for anyone who wants to follow the example of Jesus.

“Jesus sought out the marginalised people, the people who are on the edge of society – the woman at the well, for instance. These were the people he had time for and these are the people he helped and he gave new life to. When you hope to be one of those people who follow the example of Jesus and bring hope to other people, then prison chaplaincy is something to consider.”

Jason echoes these sentiments when remembering how he felt called to prison chaplaincy.

“I remembered Jesus’ words ‘I was in prison and you visited me.’ And then in the book of Hebrews, it talks about visiting one another in prison as if you were in there yourself. So God’s got a heart for those who are in prison, both spiritually and physically.”

To support Inside Out Prison Chaplaincy or to become a volunteer prison chaplain, click here.

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