It all started about 10 years ago when Tish Ladd, a member of Waverly Church of the Nazarene, told Pastor Daron Brown, “I feel like I need to go to the jail.” His shocked expression caused her to quickly add, “I feel like God is nudging me to go pray with the women.”
Thus a jail ministry began every Tuesday night with the women in the Humphreys County Jail. Other ladies joined Tish and for eights years they faithfully went every week to pray and share God’s Word. God blessed the ministry, and Pastor Brown was asked to baptize six of the women. It wasn’t possible to do it at the jail, but the administrator allowed the women to be taken to the church on a week day to use the baptistery. It was no doubt a poignant moment as women in their shackles testified to being freed from their chains of sin.
When Tish stepped down from the role in preparation to move to another part of the state, God provided a new leader: Annetta Turner Sykes came on as director. Annetta and the ladies wanted to do something special for the inmates. However, all the holidays seemed to be covered by other churches and non-profit organizations. Then Annetta thought of Valentine’s day. That was acceptable to the jail staff, but the men inmates had to be included, too.
The Waverly congregation got busy baking cookies, and the children made Valentine cards. Very strict regulations covered the Valentine making: No staples or gluing allowed. One little boy wrote in his valentine: “Make good choices, Man.”
The bags were distributed to the inmates, and in the months that followed, many letters of appreciation came to the church. One man wrote, “This is the only contact we had on this special day to know that someone loved us. ”
Perhaps the greatest blessing from this endeavor was that it initiated interest among the men of the church to begin a ministry with the male inmates. A weekly Thursday night Bible study and prayer time has begun at the jail.
When Valentine’s Day 2017 arrived, Annetta said, “No one gets beyond the need of being told they are remembered and loved. Let’s do it again.”
The entire congregation got involved. Thirty-two people were needed to bring two dozen cookies each. Forty-two signed up. Children again made Valentines. Senior citizens came to assemble 100 bags, each including M&Ms and a tract entitled, “Father’s Love Letter”.
Because of the church’s generosity, in addition to the 73 inmates, jail staff received bags. A large container was also sent to the local police station. The inmates did not know the church teams were coming, so they were delighted to see familiar faces bringing lovely treats to their cells.
The church is now working on a follow-up program called “Establish for Life” for those who will be released and need mentoring and coaching to face life on the outside. Annetta is teaching classes for church members to be ready to serve them as life coaches and mentors.
The church has also prepared a list of resources to give to the inmates as they leave the jail.
Waverly Church is in a building program, and Annetta hopes that perhaps a coffee bar can be included in the plans for the new church, where people can come to hang out and fellowship in a safe and positive environment. In their small town, only the bar stays open after 8 p.m. A coffee bar might give released inmates a place they can feel they are part of a new community.
“. . .I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Waverly Church of the Nazarene heard Jesus’s call and Valentines and cookies made it all the sweeter.