God’s Spirit is Moving Inside Minn. Women’s Prison
Transformation Happening in Prison
God is moving at the Shakopee Women’s Prison in powerful ways.
“I believe God is creating a revival inside the Shakopee Women’s Prison. The enemy is at work, and I see him panicking all the more because so many are coming to faith in Jesus Christ,” said Shug Bury, Evangelist and preacher at Shakopee Women’s Prison.
“God is on the move and real at the Shakopee Women’s Prison. He is sustaining the work that He’s begun, opening doors, minds and hearts; and He’s restoring hope and purpose,” said Cassie Johnson, prison ministry volunteer through River Valley Church.
A Wave of Baptisms
This May will be the fourth year a baptism service is offered through Westwood Community Church to the female population behind bars, and they expect at least 70 women will dedicate their lives to Christ through a full immersion baptism.
“It’s so exciting, it’s like attended a sporting event, a cheering section of witnesses fill up the gymnasium, and they are yelling and screaming for these women who are getting baptized. You see their faces change when they come out of the water, they just look like they have been restored and renewed, and it’s an amazing transformation they undergo as they are submerged and come out of the water praising God and giving glory to God,” said Steve Taborek, prison ministry volunteer coordinator with Westwood Community Church.
In total Shug Bury estimates over 350 women have been baptized since Westwood started offering a baptism service a few years back.
“You can see how the Holy Spirit is filling them up, in the face. Some of the women are shaking, looking at you like I hope this works because I have nothing else, I need Jesus Christ. The prison gets transformed for about the week or two after the baptisms,” said Bury.
“Each woman gives a brief statement of their faith in Jesus Christ right before they are submerged. We do everything in our power to make this an exceptional and life-changing event for them.
But it’s not a one-time event. Westwood Community Church volunteers and volunteers from many other evangelical ministries are a constant presence inside the prison walls.
Explosion in Church Service Attendance
Every Saturday evening Westwood Community Church holds a church service that has seen explosive growth in the past decade, starting with just 30 women; now between 150-200 women regularly attend, which is about 25% of the prison population. Local volunteers, including a group from River Valley Church, hold Tuesday church services with nearly 100 regular attendees.
“Saturday nights I preach there (at the Westwood Community Church service) and I watch some of these women living on the fringe of society, in the darkest places of their lives, find Jesus Christ. They have been born again,” said Bury.
Every week, Westwood collects dozens of prayer request cards, and takes them to a team of volunteers at their church for consistent prayer, and to write letters of encouragement to the prisoners.
“The letter of encouragement points them to Jesus Christ in a loving way, and empathizes with them, and promises to love them and pray with them over these issues,” said Taborek.
One of the First Prison Bible Study Fellowship Classess in the World
Shakopee Women’s Prison is one of the first prisons in the world to allow a Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class inside for weekly meetings.
“We started with a dedicated prayer team to try to get BSF in the door to prison, and the Chaplain agreed over time to open their doors to BSF,” said Bury. “God is immediately showering His grace and favor on the inmates as they lean into Him.”
Cassie Johnson of River Valley teaches one of a handful of mid-week discipleship Bible studies that evangelical churches hold for these women.
“One neat thing that happened last week, the women had an assignment to relay this message to other classmates, ‘You are a treasured daughter of the most high King.’ But the message went to the broader prison community. They were quite delighted to say the message took over the whole prison,” said Johnson.
And Steve Taborek of Westwood Community Church sees a need being met through these regular discipleship groups.
“Many of the women are seeking, or are new-found Christians, many of them did not grow up in the church. This faith experience is something new to them,” said Taborek.
A Christian Movement to Reduce Recidivism
Many Christian groups believe God’s next movement is in the Church helping offenders leave prison.
Prison Fellowship, a national prison ministry is calling the month of April “Second Chance Month,” asking church leaders to give former prisoners a second chance at leading a normal life.
After Casey Irwin, a former Shakopee Women’s prisoner served time for drug possession and assaulting a police officer, she spoke about how ministries helped her with job leads, housing and transportation.
“I made poor choices,” said Irwin, who now works as a manager of a KFC restaurant and attends a megachurch in Minnesota. “I’m still a normal human being and I need a place to eat and I need a place to sleep and I need a place to work.”
On April 23rd, Prison Fellowship is holding two Second Chances 5K races; one inside the Shakopee Women’s Prison facility, where incarcerated people will be running for the second chance to be a productive citizen, and one at Concordia University in St. Paul. The races are intended to bring awareness to the concept of a “second prison” once a prisoner is released, and to help create meaningful second chances for those who have paid their debt to society.
“Trying to find employment and housing when you have a criminal record is a prison of its own. We want the Church to develop a knowledge and compassion for these women who are trying to reintegrate into society,” said Johnson.
The Power of Christian Mentorship
Shug Bury agrees, she is launching a mentorship program through HIM (Hallelujah International Ministry) Prison Ministries, to walk alongside and mentor inmates as they leave prison.
“Many of these women are clean and sober, and are born again in Jesus Christ, and yet they are scared to leave prison because when they walk out the door, they don’t have the safety and security of where they’ve been,” explained Bury.
Once HIM Prison Ministries’ mentorship program is off the ground, it will equip the Church with a “mentorship team” to be standing at the prison gates welcoming these inmates. Bury says mentorship has a powerful effect on recidivism rates: without mentorship, approximately 75% of released inmates will reoffend within 5 years, however if they are mentored, approximately 8% will reoffend.
“This is a generational epidemic, and we need to stop ignoring God’s command in Hebrews 13:3 and come alongside prisoners. When they leave prison they need people to mentor them on how to function in this new life,” said Bury.
“If we as Christians help them find housing, a job opportunity, and give them a hand up. They will go to the darkest corners of our community, that you and I cannot reach, with the love of Christ,” said Bury.
Calvary Church in Roseville hosts a reentry ministry called Threshold Mentoring. According to their website, Threshold is a caring community that offers support and Christian discipleship for women and men who want to live changed lives after incarceration and recovery. They are seeing lives of former inmates being transformed, as they find love and support, and people to walk beside them on their journey, and experience the power of the Holy Spirit.
As the power of Jesus continues to move inside and outside of the walls of the Shakopee Women’s Prison, volunteers says the work is never boring or easy, but God is faithful to his command in Hebrews to “remember those in prison, as if you were together with them in prison.”
“It’s incredibly satisfying to see someone have a new awareness of their value and get to know the Lord in a way they never imagined,” said Johnson.
“We are so privileged to watch God, and have a front row seat as to what God is doing in the Shakopee Women’s Prison,” said Bury.