About twenty-five years ago, Charlene sat in a room with her small group and made a confession.
Her group had decided that week to expose an area of their lives in which they felt God was calling them to grow. “I realized that I wanted God to grow me in His unconditional love because I knew mine was conditional,” she shared.
Charlene was raised by a foster family who brought her to church, but she never developed a relationship with Christ. Her faith was legalistic, and it was her fear of judgment that led her to be baptized at thirteen.
When she got married, Charlene and her husband stopped attending church. She had taken up smoking, and after someone mentioned she smelled like smoke at church, she felt too embarrassed to return.
She repeatedly told herself, “Tomorrow, I’ll get my life straight.”
In the early 1980s, she and her husband lost their jobs due to the recession. Growing weary of competing with hundreds of people for every job they applied for, they decided to open a small shipping and packing franchise.
One day, a younger woman named Vickie came to their store to print music for her choir. She invited Charlene to come see her sing at her church.
That interaction was the start of a close friendship that led Charlene to discover a relationship with Christ and eventually be rebaptized in her forties.
Shortly after Charlene had made her confession and asked her small group to hold her accountable, Vickie reached out to Charlene and asked if she’d like to volunteer in the women’s unit at her local county jail.
“I cringed because I thought, ‘Wait a minute, these people have done crimes,’ but the Spirit convicted me because I had asked to learn to love others,” Charlene said.
Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Charlene would come to volunteer at the local jail for over twenty years, serving as a volunteer chaplain and providing counseling and mentoring to the women there until health concerns forced her to take a step back from in-person ministry.
As Charlene prayed for an opportunity to continue serving people behind bars, she remembered the Crossroads enrollment cards she had placed on tables at the jail as a chaplain. She quickly went online and applied to become a mentor.
For nearly five years, Charlene has continued to grow in her understanding of God’s love as she writes letters of encouragement to people in prison.
“Crossroads has helped me and my character to be much more loving,” she shared. “I look at people so differently now. I don’t make assumptions anymore. I look at them realizing that God wants them.”
As Charlene walks alongside her students, she understands that they each approach Scripture from a different place. She seeks to be a good listener and encourager no matter where they are on their journeys.
“It does not matter who waters or who plants the seed; it is God who can make it grow,” she explained. “I am happy to just be a part of the team.”