Jade Watson was just 15 when she was sexually abused. To numb the pain, she started drinking heavily and entered a marriage which turned violent and ended in divorce. One Sunday, after years of unhappiness, Jade heard the message of Christ on a TV programme and made the instant decision to give her life to Jesus.
Today Jade is a married mother of three, serving as a Church Army evangelist in Winchester Community Prison. She is passionate about proclaiming the Gospel through both words and actions to prisoners and ex-offenders, and longs for them to know true freedom in Christ.
“They can relate to my broken background,” says Jade. “By sharing my own story of being healed from alcohol addiction, they see that Jesus can change their lives. Most people regard them as worthless, but they are all made in the image of God – he loves and treasures them, and my job is to do the same, to make them feel valued and accepted. I encourage them to become ministers to others in similar situations.”
After a prophecy and having heard the testimony of an ex-offender, Jade went to the chaplain at Dover prison near her home and asked if she could help. She started visiting twice a week and ran two Alpha courses with 12 prisoners on each. All 24 prisoners either decided to follow Jesus or recommitted their lives to him.
Glyn, an inmate at Dover prison, was befriended by Jade and encouraged to follow Jesus. “He asked me how all the animals could fit inside Noah’s Ark,” Jade recalls. “I told him such questions shouldn’t prevent him from coming to Jesus. That seemed to make sense to him.” He completed a correspondence course in theology and is now a parish priest.
“I’ll never forget the day Jade first came to see me,” says Glyn, “the warmth of her smile and the friendly way she shared her story with me when I was a very scared young offender. She encouraged me to come back to Jesus. I will always be grateful to her.”
Paul Fitzpatrick, a Church Army evangelist who came to faith whilst serving a prison sentence, put it like this: “Prisoners don’t need to be told they are sinners – they know that already. They want to know if we have an answer, if we can offer them hope. They respond to Jade, not just because she brings the hope of Jesus Christ to them, but because she is living proof of that hope.”
Valley of Hope
“What happens when people leave prison?” asks Ralph Upton, a Church Army Evangelist who set up the Valley of Hope project for ex-offenders in the Welsh valleys.
“Their natural support networks are often non-existent, inadequate or criminal, and private landlords are understandably reluctant to take them on. How can we expect them to cope and to avoid re-offending?” Ralph and his team provide tenancy support and practical guidance on aspects of daily living like managing finances and handling emotions. They bring hope through the love of Jesus Christ, and encourage local Christians and churches.
How can you help?
• Pray – for prisoners, for ex-offenders and for those working with them
• Understand – see prisoners and ex-offenders as people God loves who are made in his image
• Welcome – make prisoners and ex-offenders welcome in your community and church and treat them as you would want to be treated
• Get involved – find out how you can get involved in support – prison chaplains will know what local support groups there are
Stories of hope
Over the last 18 months, Church Army has been telling stories of hope in Inspire magazine. Stories of people whose lives have been transformed by the love of Jesus – like Jade and Glyn on the previous page, like once-homeless Alan taking Church on the Bus to homeless people in Chesterfield. Stories of people who have committed their lives to bringing the living hope of Jesus Christ to people where they are, outside the walls of the churches – like the God-bus in Cheshire, Steve in Byker, Val in the Shankhill or Nick on the Ferrier. Stories to lift your spirits and encourage your faith.
Now it’s your turn.
As part of Church Army’s Bringing Hope, Living Hope appeal, will you tell us your stories of hope? Log on to www.bringinghope.org.uk and submit stories of up to 200 words about yourself or others you know. And read what other people have written.
The writers of three of the most encouraging stories will each receive a leather-bound copy of the Bible, the greatest story of hope ever told.
The apostle Paul describes us as “the aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15) – our lives have to smell of the hope that Christ brings, to embody that living hope.
So let’s encourage one another by sharing our stories of hope, spreading the hope of Christ like spraying a lovely perfume which will attract whole communities.
Bringing HOPE, Living HOPE
Thanks to people like you, Church Army has been bringing hope to people normally outside the reach of church since 1882.
In our 125th year, would you make a regular donation of £12.50 to help fund our ministry of sharing faith through words and actions throughout the UK and Ireland?
To donate, call 020 8309 3519 or visit www.bringinghope.org.uk to make a difference today.
Registered charity number: 226226
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