Colleen Kimball is in and out of jail. Not because she committed a crime, although she has felt like a prisoner. Colleen and a friend are regular visitors to the Harris County Jail, where they teach Faithwalking to a cell of female offenders through His Father’s Heart, a ministry to ex-offenders.
Colleen is a kindred spirit to the women. She has never been incarcerated, but she can relate on many levels to the spiritual bondage the women of Harris County Jail endure. At fourteen years of age, Colleen was sexually assaulted by a new boyfriend, who abruptly disappeared from her life after the assault. This abandonment led her to believe that she was not good enough to keep his, or anyone else’s, love. So she subconsciously made a negative vow: “I will do whatever it takes for you to love me, even if it hurts me.” The desire to find and keep love resulted in unhealthy relationships in which Colleen often accepted blame for problems and sacrificed herself to please others. It manifested itself in broken marriages and alcoholism. She felt like a prisoner to pain and addiction.
In early 2013, Colleen’s church, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, asked the session of elders to attend Faithwalking 101. Having successfully navigated Alcoholics Anonymous’ famous twelve-step program, Colleen went into Faithwalking wondering if another transformational program had anything to offer her. She did not anticipate the impact the program, infused with Jesus, would have on her. She started experiencing release from old, unhealthy patterns of living, a freedom she now teaches to the women in her missional community at the jail.
Many of the women there share stories of sexual abuse and addiction. Many are single mothers like Colleen. Many also struggle with loving themselves, and with finding and keeping love. Out of her own woundedness, Colleen is able to speak hope and redemption to these women, to show them how Jesus creates beauty from ashes, no matter one’s past. Yet she’s not afraid to preach tough love to them, either. Recidivism rates are high—without transformation many of these women can expect to find themselves back in jail not long after release. Colleen stresses the need to be transformed from within as key to avoiding recurring jail terms.
It hasn’t always been easy for Colleen to speak openly about her past. Faithwalking is helping her take the risk of sharing, without shame or condemnation. Her courage, in turn, has inspired others open up about their past pains. “Taking that risk is so important, because you never know who is going to benefit,” she says. Colleen has already taken 10-15 women through the Faithwalking 101 notebook, and she and her ministry partner plan to start over with a new batch of women in a different cell. Colleen is a trained chaplain and hopes to train ex-offenders to return to the jail as chaplains themselves.
“Every one matters to God,” Colleen believes. “There are broken-hearted people everywhere. They are like unpolished diamonds, beaten down by the world. Then something happens where you’re blessed enough to realize you’ve been believing lies and you’re not all God has called you to be. You start living up to your potential, and then you can give that back. It’s an incredible domino effect. Sometimes it just takes someone believing in you.”
Colleen has experienced the joy of new beginnings in many areas of her life. She jokes that God has blessed her with nine lives. Through the power of God to transform and redeem, Colleen and the women of her missional community are learning that real freedom, found only in Christ, helps them land on their feet.
photo credit: victor with flickr