Ministry to Inmates – The Jennifer Shea Story
Ministry to Inmates
Chaplains Steve and Barb Coyle are doing Ministry to Inmates at St. Joe prison in Indiana. Jennifer Shea was in prison serving time for theft. Chaplains at prisons and jails are used by God in profound ways. Ministry to inmates is about sharing the Love of Christ to those who desperately need it. Many are at the low point of their lives.
Steve and Barb were doing ministry to inmates when Jennifer Shea attended a worship service they were leading. Here is her story:
My name is Jennifer Shea, and I wanted to tell you my story about how GOD was always there and the moment I saw him. I hope my testimony inspires and brings more people into the kingdom of GOD.
God knocked once. It was April 7th, 2004 my best friend Ashley was supposed to pick me up for school, but she never showed. I went about my normal morning commute, got on the bus and proceeded to school like always. As I rode on the bus, I couldn’t help but feel mad at her. “How could she forget me?” As the bus came to a sudden stop, I saw an ambulance race by. As I looked out the window, I followed the bus to its destination. I saw a truck on its side and a small blue car almost flattened. Right then my heart sank into my stomach as I watched the paramedics pull my friend Sam out of the passenger’s side of the almost flattened car. Sam reached her arms out as they put her on the gurney and a sigh of relief came over me. I thought okay, she might have a face full of glass but she’s alive. As I looked back at the car, I realized that’s Ashley’s car and my body was frozen in shock as they grabbed the Jaws of Life and started cutting the roof. Minutes later, I watched as they pulled Ashley’s lifeless body from the wreckage, every bone in her body broken. I remember feeling an emotional pain I had never felt before, like part of me died inside. I thought what kind of God would take a child so young, so beautiful, so full of life; I hated God. Later that day, tears flowed through the class as I gazed at Ashley’s empty desk. At period pass my choir teacher offered a hug and said: ” Jennifer, God saved you, he let Ashley forget you for a reason!” But I didn’t care what he had to say, I hated God for not letting me be with her. I had no idea what God had in store for me. He knocked twice.
As the years went on, I fell deeper into the pit. I lied, stole and destroyed my relationship with my family, continuously partying and doing endless drugs. It didn’t help that I had a spouse that was as reckless as I was. We woke up thinking of how to steal something or how to screw someone over. It wasn’t until we found heroin that I realized our lives had become toxic and together we were deadly. One morning, I woke up with this unknown determination to get my kids and me as far away from drugs as I possibly could. I felt so torn apart inside because I knew that my spouse would not agree with my plan and I would have to walk away from the father of my children. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but I knew I was escaping death. I packed my kids in the car and drove to my mother’s house. I never looked back, and I never used again. Sadly, my ex-husband died of an overdose a year later. I remember thinking that could have been me, but my narrow mind never once thought God had anything to do with it, but He did.
As the next three years passed, I began to spiral down again. I never touch heroin again, but I had no problem drinking and smoking marijuana. I also had this hunger for attention from anyone. Having countless affairs and never being fulfilled. Being selfish was the norm for me, stealing and lying to get what I wanted. One night, I decided to steal a credit card number from someone at my job and order food with it since I had spent all of my money on drugs. Little did I know, the owner immediately informed the cops of the purchase I had made. The next day the cops were at my house to arrest me for fraud. I was so upset, seeing my children cry and knowing it was all my fault, but I also didn’t care, that’s how terrible I was. I thought they are better off without me.
As I sat in booking at the St. Joe county jail, I called my mom and told her I was sorry and just sobbed. Early that morning, I was moved to the general population, and I was terrified. I thought I needed to have something to read or watch or how would I survive. I missed my kids, I missed my mom. Later that day as I sat in the corner of my cell, I heard the guards call for church and I thought anything is better than sitting in this room. So I got in line and joined the girls. As I sat in the church room of the St. Joe county jail, my head was just riddled with thought, “You’re too fat, no one loves you, your parents hate you, you have lied so many times who could ever trust you again, and you’re nothing, just give up.” These words were an endless inner monologue in my head. Suddenly the TV was on and I heard and saw this man on the screen, and I couldn’t look away. This is what he said, “You are beautiful, smart, funny, kind, unique, you are worthy of love and affection, never too much and you are always enough, you are precious, a diamond, a rose, a pearl, you are the most stunning of all God’s creation. You are worth more than you can ever imagine. Your worth surpasses all earthly things because, in the eyes of the Lord God, you are loved, and you are worth dying for. Regardless of who you think you are the reality is you deserve someone who would give their life for you because you are strong and capable, read about the women in the Bible Esther, Ruth, Martha, Mary, these women changed the world forever, and inside of you is a woman with the same power the same strength the same world-changing capability. Your responsibility is to find that woman and set that woman free. This is who you are, and any voices in your head that try to tell you differently are the enemy, and the next time you hear that you say, NO! not me Satan, I am a daughter of the living God, love and adored, above all things, by the creator of things, for the glory of him who is greater than all things. I AM AWESOME! And please don’t you forget it.'”
As I sat there with tears running down my face, I thought I have never heard anything so beautiful or even could imagine the love that he was describing. Suddenly, this calm came over me. I was so in awe of the feeling God gave me by way of the Holy Spirit, but also in awe because Chaplain Steve and Barb Coyle were so elevated on this level beyond my understanding. These warriors for God were just sparkling. I wanted to shine like them; I wanted a life beyond this darkness, so finally, I opened the door. Then in the next week, I was anointed and gave my whole life to Christ. The feeling was so overwhelming it brought me to tears. “But what now?” I thought, so I prayed for wisdom and guidance and dove heart first into the word of God. I decided to use the time I had to get as close as I could to God and take my walk with Him. After I was released, my family found an amazing church, so my learning never ceased. I am blessed to have a wonderful pastor and church family. God gave me the gift of singing, and I sing at every available moment to praise His name. As of today, I am proud to say my life has changed. I have reconciled with my family and my children and our bonds have never been stronger. I have a wonderful job and I work with some very awesome people. I have an amazing fiancé that loves the Lord as much as I do. Even now, day by day the playing field is rising and God has given me unlimited possibilities to use for His glory.
About a month ago at a woman’s retreat with all of my sisters from church, I kept dreaming of the word “leader” and kept hearing people saying I am a leader and now I have a huge calling to become a pastor. As of right now, I am not sure of my plans. I just want to learn all I can here at Christian Leaders Institute and acquire the credentials to execute the gifts God gave me.
On a personal note, I will be married next fall to an amazing God-fearing man named Aaron Schmucker, and I have four kids, three boys, and one girl. All my kids are super involved in church and sports. On my down time, I enjoy worshipping the Lord, bible studies, songwriting, crafts, fishing, concerts.
If you are called to study ministry check out Christian Leaders Institute. CLI offers free ministry training online.
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