On July 8, Kurt Sauder, my wife, Tonia, and I were honored to attend the graduation for a DC28:20—Getting Equipped group at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Pewee Valley. 

Renee Patterson and Rachael Buschman did a terrific job leading a group of 10 women through the 36-week course. It was their first experience with prison ministry.

The 10 women studied about two hours per week and met weekly to have a facilitated discussion of the material. Along the way, they studied a variety of topics that are crucial to developing a Christian worldview—everything from the humanity and deity of Christ to applications such as managing conflict, work and evangelism.

DC28:20 includes Bible reading and then a discussion of what the Spirit has shown each person. (Over the 36 weeks, they read the entire New Testament, Proverbs and a sampling of Psalms.) During the testimony part of the graduation, many of the women talked about reading the Bible more regularly and learning how to apply it to their lives. In the church, we often encourage people to read their Bibles. But too often, we don’t help them enough with accountability or applicability.

DC28:20 also includes Bible memorization. Many women mentioned particular verses that had impacted them. “Grow in the grace and knowledge” (2 Peter 3:18) was mentioned a few times—along with Hebrews 4:12 and 2 Timothy 2:15.

Jeannie quoted Ephesians 4:2, which was probably helpful to her on a daily basis: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

We heard the usual array of blessings from their time in a DC group. Stevie found confidence to share her faith. Jeannie and Lily learned how to persevere through the 36 weeks. Jenny said she understood God much better—not just as Savior but as a friend.

Many of them enjoyed the group as a family. In terms of the need for discipleship with Jesus, it turns out that there’s amazingly little difference between those inside and outside the walls of a prison.

The most staggering thread in the testimonies was that all of them had troubled family lives and many had fathers or other prominent men in their lives who were absent or abusers. This is where the group’s “shepherd” was so helpful. Dale Clover was there every week as someone with experience in prison ministry. (He co-led a DC group at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex.)

We thought a male presence would be helpful for a few reasons. But we did not anticipate that God would use Dale’s graciousness as a father figure in such a transformative way. There were many tears of joy at the celebration, but the most powerful moments were centered around the women connecting with a Godly man and gaining a new and improved view of their Heavenly Father.

Southeast Christian Church and Further Still Ministries picked up the tab for the books. And Southeast paid for the graduation meal. (Thanks to both!) Renee and Rachael asked what the ladies wanted to eat, and the only request was fresh fruits and vegetables.

I watched one woman eat (and enjoy) a blueberry for the first time. Another lady said she hadn’t eaten a radish in 34 years. (I joked, “Me neither!”) It was wonderful but sobering to watch them enjoy the basics that we take for granted.

The six of us were able to leave the prison and enjoy our freedom after the event—while the women continue to “pay their debt to society.” Kara mentioned Galatians 5:1 as a favorite memory passage and talked about finding freedom in prison.

How often are inmates freer than those outside prison? Let us make sure to use our freedom to pursue spiritual freedom and spread that freedom to others.

Names have been changed to protect anonymity.