Marriage Ministry Behind Bars

By Jamie Hoos

As I prayed and prepared for our first trip with Sing for the King into the prison, I kept coming back to the concept of hope.  Hope for these men.  Hope for their marriages.  Hope for their relationships.  Hope for their families.

And I kept asking myself, “How in the world did our marriage, of all marriages, get to the point where we’d be walking into those prison walls and giving hope to those who might have lost all sense of the word?”

There’s only one answer.  God Himself stepped in.

God had stepped in when my relationship with my husband was troubled. Deeply troubled. When my thoughts were impure and my behavior unloving, when my husband’s baggage from life’s issues were colliding with mine, when we both contributed wrong after wrong into the other’s life.  When I wondered if we’d stay married.  When our hope was waning. God had stepped in.

The “when” for us was years ago—fifteen years to be exact–but it was fresh on my heart and mind as we approached our time together with the prisoners.  God had done so much to restore, heal and give our marriage a firm foundation and guidance for our future, our family.  I knew He could and would do it for these prisoners as well.

So we prayed that we would point them to Him, give them the Word, offer encouragement, and instill hope–all in the powerful name of Jesus.

Worship music came first. And let’s just say that I wasn’t prepared for what I was privileged to hear.  A hundred deep voices in one accord singing about the Lord’s holiness.  Amazing.  This was, in part, the “masculine” church service that I had read about and been burdened for over the years.  Men humbled enough to bow before the altar, even during a song.  Men singing loudly with a strong assurance of the One to whom their praises were directed.

Whether they knew it or not, these fellow brothers had already been used by God to bless me.  And God was moving upon each of our hearts.

Announcements were made, Scripture was read, we were introduced and then it was time.  Time for Andy and I to exalt the Word of God and share about how marriage cannot be separated from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To talk about our lives, our relationship, the way God has moved in our hearts and given us mercy and grace.

We discussed what marriage is and what marriage isn’t.  How the Bible defines the union between a man and a woman as a covenant, originating with God Himself and blessed by its Creator.  How the barriers to oneness in marriage are universal for us all—the root of each is sin, which manifests itself as selfishness, in blame-shifting, in battles for control, in the refusal to surrender to God’s marriage plan and the list goes on.

The Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is the only hope for our broken lives and marriages, relationships.  When God created man and woman in His image, He meant for the marriage union to reflect the unity of the Trinity and the only way on His green earth that’s going to happen is by the regeneration of sinful hearts brought into communion with the Father through Christ the Son.  And when we took the audience to Ephesians chapter five where the marriage is described as a picture of Jesus and His Bride, we shared how those words speak to the man and the woman about how they can actively model that divine relationship.

As we described the roles of a man and a woman in the marriage relationship, I had a personal burden to exhort them as the leaders of their wives and families. I have heard the desperate hearts of women I minister to, how they long for their husbands to lead, and I knew that these men’s wives were no different.  I wanted to encourage these husbands to lead even from behind the prison bars.  Practically speaking, Scripture can be read over the phone.  Prayer can take place as often as they spoke to their loved ones at home.  And, I wanted to point them to my husband’s real-life example of godly leadership.  I spoke of his faithful, sacrificial service to me and our children.  And true to Andy’s nature, he pointed them straight to the source of his strength as a man . . . our God of grace who gives us what we need, from day-to-day, to be who He has called each of us to be.

Running out of time but still going, we allowed for questions.  Getting to hear the hearts of a few of these men was quite an honor.  Some had frustrations, some had specific questions, and yet some others could testify to the Lord’s work in their lives as husbands, which was a great encouragement.

Prayer time was sweet and sincere.  Many came to Andy and me for prayer, for us to appeal to the Lord on their behalf.  The needs varied but each was real, heart-wrenching.  We prayed for wives that didn’t know Jesus, for girlfriends whom these men loved but hadn’t heard from in months, for children that had been displaced out of what used to be their home, for a parents’ marriage that was suffering, for confession of adulterous behavior and for God to somehow soften the heart of the offended wife that she may desire a reconciliation with her felon husband.

In such moments there is no need to apply a band-aid with words of comfort or help.  The only complete and whole answer was to lay each burden down at the foot of the Cross.  To petition our all-powerful and all-knowing Savior who can and will move in the lives of these men and their loved ones.  With tears and a sense of desperate brokenness, we did just that.

Our first prison mission trip ended where it began . . . in prayer before our Heavenly Father.  With faith that He would give hope where none was seemingly found.  With assurance that He is good even when it appears that He’s not.  With a deep realization that He is present, behind bars and beyond.

And as for Andy and me?  We have been blessed with a renewed love for each other, for marriage ministry and for Jesus Christ Himself—the One to whom we give all the glory for what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do moving forward.

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”   Colossians 1:27

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