Changed from the inside out
Changed from the inside out
17 July 2017
In 2012, The Salvation Army’s Collingwood Corps in the Australia Southern Territory established a now-thriving prison-gate ministry, which is very dear to my heart. Through it we assist the reintegration of post-release women back into society.
Owing to the success of our endeavours, we have received (and continue to receive) numerous referrals from our local magistrate, a multitude of lawyers, various court and prison chaplains, an assortment of other agencies, and also Corrections Victoria.
The ministry essentially revolves around a Home League-based mentoring program, linking our women with various support groups, including relevant counselling services. We befriend those who have no friends (Mother Teresa described loneliness as the worst form of poverty), source material aid and assist with family reunification, appropriate work/study opportunities, and find suitable housing.
We seek to be part of the vitally necessary debrief for these broken and hurting women – none of whom come out of prison better – by allowing them the opportunity to tell their stories in a safe environment, thereby espousing the underlying Salvation Army values of human dignity, justice, hope, compassion and community. We do this because everyone has a story and everyone is somebody’s child!
The Scriptures declare, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men and women by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus Christ is the supreme culmination of God’s holistic reign, the great mediator of our redemption, and the sublime agent of all true transformation, reconciliation and restoration. And by God’s grace, and in God’s strength, and with God’s help, The Salvation Army (at its best – at its very best) continues to stand as a beacon of hope and light and love and truth and grace and mercy and justice, with arms outstretched, saying, in Christ’s name, “Here is my hand!”
Hence, Jesus becomes more than just an abstract model to follow. He is the means of salvation by which all of us are reconfigured from death into life, saved from impersonal individualism, fruitless humanism and meaningless materialism. This, in turn, enables each of us to freely exist in community, under the divine unification of the Kingdom of God, which is demonstrably present in the here and now when we feed the hungry, provide a drink for the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, attend to the sick, or visit the prisoner. For in doing this to another, we actually do it to Jesus himself (Matthew 25:34-46). Accordingly, our relationship(s) with others should be utterly indistinguishable from our relationship to Christ.
In partnership with the wonderful Mary Anderson Family Violence Service, we have set about breaking the substantial links between domestic violence and the prison population. An astonishing 95 per cent of those in prison come out of backgrounds of significant family violence.
The undeniable reality is that the vast majority of incarcerated women have simply come from one cruel, abusive environment into another, and then go out again into another – and people wonder why these folk continue to go to prison, “in and out, in and out!”, as The Salvation Army’s Founder said more than a century ago.
It is important to recognise the definitive (albeit narrow) window of opportunity when people still have “hope, plans and a future” for a new life, not just the old one patched up – before dreams are completely obliterated by an archaic, inhumane, abhorrent and unjust system that consistently sets women up to fail.
Clearly, the potential is there to empower these most vulnerable and dispossessed women (and their children) to truly believe that they’re not just continually condemned to destructive, poisonous and abusive relationships because they feel that’s all they deserve.
So, out of a little seed, this project took root.
We put together a select prisoner advisory and review group designed to develop the production of a discrete, user-friendly, attractive “family violence” resource and engagement card, that we have distributed throughout the maximum-security women’s prison, via specialist counselling services.
The subsequent stage of this exciting project entailed Collingwood Corps partnering with other groups and Box Hill Corps, in sourcing an array of donations for our “exit pack” initiative (practical backpacks replete with essential toiletries, socks and underwear, our family violence info card, food vouchers, Salvo Store vouchers, Myki travel cards and Bibles) that has negated the need for people to be released with all their worldly belongings contained in nothing more than an undignified black, plastic, garbage bag.
On a pastoral level, we consistently endeavour to create and nurture a loving, kind, compassionate, inclusive community by showing kindness in the name of Jesus and by continuing to affirm and accept these broken and hurting women as they are. We listen to their stories with a kind and non-judgemental ear, open our hearts and come alongside them, thereby inspiring them to be the very best that they can be, and hence, encouraging them in the relentless pursuit of the person that God has made them to be. We have been deeply blessed to have brought a number of our women to Christ or – perhaps more pertinently – brought Christ to a number of our women!
We have discovered (or at the least have had it reinforced) that it is quite possibly only privilege and advantage (or rather a lack thereof) that separates us all ... because there but for the grace of God go each of us!
The true reign of God, not the reign as we might be inclined to design it, defines the very essence of authentic Salvationism. After all, it is Jesus who heals, not us; Jesus who speaks words of truth, not us; Jesus who saves, not us; Jesus who is Lord, not us!
Those who experience the fullness of salvation do so not as a result of their own merit, but because of the unfathomable provision of God’s incomprehensible prevenient grace, in terms of his impartial, unearned and unmerited favour.
My personal salvation story lies in, and only in, our Lord Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, God’s abundant love and mercy heals divisions, reconciles the alienated, ensures freedom for the captives, gives hope to the hopeless, offers forgiveness to both the unforgiven and the unforgiveable alike, and intentionally includes the excluded.
Henri Nouwen used the hauntingly beautiful description of “A restless seeking of God ... the figure of Jesus lives among humanity, damaged and wounded. He is the wounded healer who in his downward mobility (incarnation) searches for broken people and shares in the brokenness of our existence”.
Unquestionably, I believe that The Salvation Army has been raised up by God, and as such would respectfully propose that it must not become so much of a middle-class movement that it forgets “the rock from which it was cut, and the quarry from which it was hewn” (Isaiah 51:1).
Our special glory should be our concern for and our ability to be the champion of the poor in every respect, and to reach out and to come alongside the marginalised and the most vulnerable and dispossessed within our communities.
Why? Because, quite simply, and according to our own “Orders and Regulations for Soldiers”, it “belongs to the Army spirit to remember those whom others forget!”
Lieutenant Meg Dale is the Associate Corps Officer, Brunswick Corp and Community Programs.
This article was first published in Revive Magazine.