“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” (Matthew 25:35-36)
Of course Jesus didn’t intend for us to minister only to those groups he mentioned. However, among those people described by Jesus, the group most often neglected are those in prison.
Even more neglected are the children of those who are incarcerated. That was the impetus behind the development of Mom & Me Camp in 2002. The Chaplain at what is now the Logan Correctional Center discerned that there would be great value in bringing inmates together with their children in supportive Christian experiences. He talked with Calvary’s Shirley Ryan, who embraced this vision, began to help the chaplain overcome what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles….and ministry was born. Mom & Me Camp joins with East Bay Camp in their mission: “To Welcome, Witness, and Send forth in the name of Jesus Christ.” Shirley brought other Calvary folks and many, many others on board at the onset and we’ve been involved ever since in various forms.
God has not only moved mountains to make Mom & Me happen, but the ways in which God has transformed hearts through the years is astounding. Here’s just one of those stories of transformation.
A caregiver contacted Shirley and said that her nephew had been acting out and she didn’t think she was going to send him to camp that year for fear of what he might do. Shirley assured the aunt that they could deal with it and that God would love this child no matter what happened.
Reluctantly, the aunt sent this little guy to Mom & Me Camp. Three weeks later, Shirley was at the prison when she saw the little boy and his caregivers (aunt and uncle) who were visiting the boy’s mom. Of course the little boy ran up to Shirley and enthusiastically greeted her with hugs. The uncle asked Shirley if they could talk and pulled her aside…..appearing to be upset. He said to Shirley, “You sent a different child home to us from that camp.” You can imagine what was racing through Shirley’s mind, “How could we just now find out that we mixed up the children? How could that happen?” Shirley said, “We sent home the wrong child?” The uncle said, “You didn’t send home the wrong child. You sent home a different child. Before he went to camp, he was acting out every day. When he came home, he took out the trash, helped around the house, and went around with a smile on his face telling us, ‘smile, Jesus loves you’ all the time. I’m just waiting for it to wear off….and it hasn’t yet. I just don’t know how you all could make this difference in just 3 days.” A relieved Shirley Ryan responded with, “We didn’t make a difference. God did. And when you read the book, you’ll see that God can do a whole lot in 3 days.” Amen, Shirley!
As I talked with Shirley about the miracles seen throughout the years, she said, “It just shows us that when God says He has a plan, all we have to do is get on board and let God do His work and provide the passageway for God to work. We just need to do what God tells us and stay out of God’s way.”
East Bay Camp helps to provide Mom & Me a unique opportunity for children ages 7-12 whose mothers are inmates at the logan and Decatur, Illinois Correctional Centers. For three days, the children are able to participate in a day-camp at the prison with their mothers, returning each evening to East Bay Camp for swimming, hiking, boating and the fellowship of summer camp.
These children and mothers get to play games, do crafts, and renew their relationships. During camp, a special program called Caregivers Camp is also offered to adults who care for the children of the mothers in prison. These caregivers desperately need a time of relaxation and refreshment from the difficult task of raising young children.
If you’d like to be a part of this ministry, contact the church and we’ll get you connected. If you’d like to hear more wonderful stories, catch Shirley at church and she’ll bless you with stories of transformation! Thank you, Jesus, for letting us visit those who in prison.
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Tomorrow on the Daily Connection: A Light to My Path
About the Author
Shirley Ryan is a member of Calvary UMC
Debbie Reese is the Co-Directing Pastor of Calvary UMC