Written by Kristin Bennecker
In the Philippines we have been consistently serving at the Tacloban City Women’s Jail. On a weekly basis, Rina Miller visits the female dorm and facilitates Bible studies, games to promote group dynamics, and various seminars. Through this consistent effort, we have formed a valuable relationship not only with the inmates, but also with the staff who have noted our genuine care for the women and quality of service.
Last November, I had the opportunity to visit the prison and provide a meal for the women along with a Bible study. I had heard about our team’s work in the prison and it was significant for me to be able to participate in this time with them. Since then, I have often remembered these precious women and lifted them up in prayer as I know they face unimaginable challenges daily. Each of them has their own story of how they came to be in prison. Many have waited for a trial date for years—often for a petty crime, or sometimes a crime they didn’t even commit. They are mothers who are separated from their children. Daughters who are estranged from their parents. Grandmothers who are unable to age with the comfort of their family around them. They are subject to a flawed system where justice is lacking and in turn, they suffer an unimaginable loss—their freedom.
This November, I was blessed with the opportunity to return with two other SEA team members (Julie Carpenter and Cannon Cameron) to Tacloban, this time with an emphasis in maternal health. As we prepared for our time, we prayed about how we could be a benefit to the women in the prison and planned a specific program that was tailored to their needs. We knew that our approach to health education had to be carefully considered as they often lack access to health exams, feminine hygiene products, and basic resources. We wanted whatever we shared with them to be empowering, applicable, and equalizing as their ages span 18-60 years old.
We taught on women’s monthly cycles and hormone fluctuations that naturally take place throughout the entire month. We discussed what is normal and abnormal, as well as what they can do to ease both physical and emotional symptoms related to their cycles. This gave them a moment to both learn and laugh about the things we all experience as women, but often don’t talk about. It also provided an avenue for us to encourage them to be more sensitive to each other and aware of things their fellow sisters may be experiencing. We brainstormed ways they can better serve each other throughout their monthly cycles by encouraging rest, giving a massage, getting food and water, being quick to forgive, and praying with each other.
In their small, often inhospitable environment, unity is something that has to be continually garnered. They can easily default to surviving each day looking out for only themselves. Yet, inside those walls what they have is each other to lean on, and in turn they become each other’s family. We spoke from Galatians 5, specifically the fruit of the spirit and their responsibility to create an environment that reflects God’s presence with them and the freedom they can experience when they live according to his Spirit.
We closed our time by sharing a meal with them that we had prepared that morning and brought with us, as well as passing out a health care package for each woman that contained basic necessities they often don’t have access to. As we ate and passed out our gifts, they sang the song, “God will Make a Way.” As I looked out over the crowd, hearing their voices fill the room, I could feel the Lord’s presence there with us,
“God will make a way
Where there seems to be no way.
He works in ways, we cannot see.
He will make a way for me.
He will be my guide.
Draw me closely to his side.
With love and strength, for each new day,
He will make a way,
He will make a way…”
To sing these words as imprisoned women is no small action. For me, it was a picture of their acknowledgment of God at work among them and their faith. While they are subject to a corrupt system that may not ever serve them justice, they are also choosing to put their hope in God and his ability to work among them, daily.
This was a significant day for all of us because in those few hours, we weren’t just ‘educators’ and ‘prisoners’—we were just women, sisters in the Lord, laughing together, discussing things common to our experience, and collectively recognizing our need for each other and the LORD. It is our privilege to know these women and to have the opportunity to minister to them consistently. We take seriously our calling to continue to invest into them and help them see their ability to transform their environment by the way they serve one another and usher in God’s presence.