Delivering message of hope

Published 5:15 pm Monday, December 8, 2008

They don’t walk through the locked doors with much — a handful of snacks and a letter or two. But what they don’t bring in material gifts, they make up for with hearts full of love and a powerful message.

“We didn’t really search for any of this. The doors have opened up so that God can really use us,” said Myra Wright, organizer of Columbiana First United Methodist Church’s Olive Branch ministry.

According to Wright, God has opened the doors to Shelby County’s Jail, juvenile detention, Shelby County work release and the Alabama Therapeutic Educational Facility.

Volunteers with the ministry visit with incarcerated men and women in these facilities to provide Bible study and prayer.

Volunteer Phyllis Mathews said she felt apprehensive in the beginning.

“I was really nervous and scared going in, but not for my safety,” Mathews said. “I think my fear was whether or not there was anything I could say or do that would be of interest to them.”

Mathews said she discovered women without hope who just need someone to listen to them.

“What I found in there were little lost girls that just needed someone to love them,” Mathews said. “In a lot of cases people give up on them and they give up on themselves.”

Mathews said she felt like out of either depression or despair they continued in the same cycle of bad decisions that led them to jail.

She said without someone coming in to break the cycle they might never have a chance.

“We don’t know who we are being sent in to talk to,” Mathews said. “We know that we aren’t automatically changing or turning lives around, but we believe we are planting seeds.”

Planting the seed can be done with a simple conversation, Mathews said.

Within the first year, the ministry delivered more than 800 Bibles, served six meals and became pin pals with numerous inmates.

“If it had been my child, I hope someone would help them,” Wright said. “It has opened the door for us to minister to them and get to know them.”

The ministry plans to provide pre-packaged snacks and homemade cookies for the inmates this Christmas season. The ministry is also in need of used books, hotel-sized toiletries and donations. The church will accept pre-packaged treats like Honey Buns and Rice Krispy treats through Dec. 15.

Wright said what the ministry does for one person it does for everyone.

She said they do not supply food or money to anyone directly, nor do they offer to call anyone for them. They simply extend an olive branch — a line of hope for the prisoners.