Not really surprisingly, some jail inmates are cold to the chaplain. That, at times, is the case for Lynn Sandberg as she ministers to the women at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center. She told me about one woman in particular who was rather closed off from her time of arrival. Her case had some notoriety because of the serious nature of her alleged crime.. But there was something the woman needed, so she asked Lynn for help. Ever since the woman was arrested, she'd had no idea what had happened to her dog. Lynn was able to contact the police and find out that the dog was safe and in a good home. The woman was grateful and open to further conversation with Lynn.
Back in 2005, the jail's staff chaplain met Lynn's husband at the market and asked whether Lynn might like to help at the jail. And Lynn promptly answered no (she might have laughed first). She didn't think she had the skills or gifts for such a ministry, but she became convinced God was calling her. If that was the case, she knew she would have what she needs to serve.
As a volunteer chaplain, Lynn cares for all of the needs of inmates, excluding medical and legal needs. She helps set up rehabilitation and halfway houses, provides counseling, and refers people to consulting. Yes, she helps with concerns about pets, but also with family concerns. One of the more difficult but important services she provides is death notifications, letting inmates know about deaths among their families or friends.
And Lynn provides a unique service for the inmates of the jail -- parenting classes. Years ago, Lynn began to study the Scriptures that portray God as a Father to learn how she could be a better parent. She focused on the growth of Jesus in Luke 2 in "wisdom and stature and in the favor of God and man." She formed what she learned into a course on parenting, Heaven Brought Home. She presented the program at churches and was then asked by the warden to present the program to inmates.
I asked Lynn if there were any differences in presenting the parenting course in the jail and in the church. Maybe because I asked her this question in a church, she was hesitant to answer. She lowered her voice to say, "I like doing the course better in jail than in churches." She said the women in jail were much more open, whereas people in churches could be more closed off. The women in the jail laughed one moment and were crying the next.
Perhaps this openness is because the women in the jail can be honest about the fact they need help to be good parents. It was obvious they had failed and needed help. People in church might be afraid to admit it, but we all do need help; particularly when it comes to the issue of anger. The women in jail know they have a problem with anger. Lynn says she herself was an angry person but God has changed her.
Lynn hopes to expand the parent course to other jails and prisons. She is planning to video the program so it can be used in other jails and prisons. In fact, she dreams of God taking her program to jails and prisons in every state. Such a thing will take great financial resources and the cutting of a good deal of bureaucratic red tape, but Lynn has learned that if God is in it, He can make it happen.
I asked Lynn if there were any limitations placed on sharing her faith in the detention center, and she assured me there was not. Though obviously she isn't looking to force her faith on anyone, she lives out 1 Peter 3:15, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."
According to Lynn, "Any day I'm going to jail; it's a good day."
Lynn's website: www.heavenbroughthome.com