Two years ago, when she retired, Debbie Roeger prayed that God would show her how she could serve Him.
She had just one request: "Please God," she prayed, "Don't send me into prisons."
Well, I don't have to tell you that's exactly where God sent her. But Debbie's story is an exciting one of how ordinary people can make an extraordinary difference in criminal justice.
Not long after praying her prayer, Debbie saw an ad for a Prison Fellowship conference on Restorative Justice. She didn't really want to go, but she felt God was calling her to attend.
At the conference, Debbie met Gary Sims, who was in charge of prison religious services in central Ohio, where Debbie lived. Gary told her about a pilot program at Ohio's Marion Prison in which forty-eight prisoners -- Christian, Jew, and Muslim -- were learning how to demonstrate respect and tolerance for one another.
Debbie had hoped that if God really did ever send her to a prison, he would at least send her to a women's prison. But Debbie had a sudden, clear sense God was calling her, not just to prison ministry, but to one specific men's prison: Marion. Debbie, you see, has a master's degree in human resources and is a trained mediator. God wanted to use her background and experience in a new, unexpected way.
At Marion, the warden invited Debbie to develop a conflict resolution program. And over the next eighteen months, Debbie trained twenty-four inmates to mediate disputes between their fellow inmates. She also worked with prison staff, teaching them how to mediate workplace disputes. Inmates now feel better equipped to handle conflicts and to use the skills informally in all sorts of situations.
Now Debbie has been asked to teach conflict resolution skills to the entire prison population. As Debbie notes, "It's tremendously powerful in what it can accomplish in terms of trust, self-esteem, and conflict resolution." One inmate commented, "I've never trusted anyone in my life, but this program taught me to trust."
And Debbie learned to trust too -- to trust that God would give her the courage to accomplish His will wherever He sent her. As she told BreakPoint, "The first time I stepped into prison, there was no small amount of fear in my heart. God gave me Scripture from Isaiah 41: 'For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, "Do not fear; I will help you."'" Debbie has been a tremendous witness for Christ in this, one of the toughest prisons in Ohio.
Today, Debbie says, "Some of the strongest prayer partners I have are men in prison. God has given me a family of brothers at Marion who love me as a Christian sister."
I'm telling you this story in part because Prison Fellowship is holding another three-day restorative justice seminar in Orlando, Florida, this March. It will showcase programs and people -- including Debbie -- that are making a difference in the criminal justice system. I hope you'll prayerfully consider attending. You'll learn how to put biblical principles of justice to work in your own community - - both inside and outside of prison.
Jesus told us that when we visit those in prison, we are visiting him. Too often, we think we ought to leave that to the professionals. But Debbie is evidence that God can take ordinary people behind prison gates and use them in a mighty way.