Leigh Littrell sat in the local county jail parking lot, praying her heart out. Lord, she asked, as she tried to get ready to assist teaching a class to female inmates, help me see these women through Your eyes. Give me your love for them, because I can’t do it in my own strength!
God would answer that prayer – and then some.
A Heart for Service
Leigh, a lifelong resident of Alabama and a graduate of Auburn University, always had a tender heart toward God’s call to reach “the least of these” Christ mentions in Matthew 25. She had taken several short-term missions trips to the Dominican Republic. After one trip, she was offered the opportunity to visit women and assist teaching at a local jail, but she wasn’t sure if jail or prison ministry was God’s specific calling for her, or what it might look like.
Over time, Leigh began to realize that unless women returning from prison or seeking a second chance could find an environment that support their growth, they would likely return to the only lifestyle they knew. God gave her a vision for starting a transitional home for these women – a place that would help them get back on their feet as they prepared to return to their families and communities as whole, contributing members. It was a big dream, and she needed a dose of encouragement to get it off the ground.
Leigh found that courage when she joined the Centurions program, an intensive, year-long Christian worldview course, offered by The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, that a close friend recommended to her.
“Although I’ve had a relationship with the Lord,” Leigh wrote in response to an interview request, “the [Centurions] program changed my daily rhythms completely – for the better, that is. … It gave me the wisdom and courage I needed to know that God’s Word is sufficient, and that I should boldly and courageously live by it and share it, but in a ‘winsome’ sort of way, as Chuck would say!”
Creating a Refuge for Women and Their Children
Leigh, who is married with three nearly-grown children, founded a transitional home called Refuge of Grace shortly before she was officially commissioned as a Centurion. In the program, women get on their feet through drug addiction recovery, biblical counseling, life-skills training, encouragement to find employment, reconciliation of family relationships, and spiritual nourishment.
“Prison Fellowship has been very instrumental in encouraging me to walk forward where the Lord is calling,” she writes. “When I shared the vision with [CEO Jim Liske], he was right there to encourage me, but more importantly, he believed in refuge of grace and said that ‘we,’ meaning Prison Fellowship, would be there to support and partner with us in any way we needed. You have no idea how comforting that little, two-letter word can be when you begin a ministry!”
Since starting the home, Leigh says, life has been a “great adventure.” But she believes that her work in the Centurions program has given her a firm foundation and the ability to lead the women to whom she ministers. She helps residents to “know that they have been forgiven, redeemed, and have a heavenly Father that loves them dearly.” From that profound understanding flows the women’s ability to live differently back in the community once they leave Refuge of Grace.
Running a transitional home for women and their children, many of whom are recovering from serious issues, isn’t easy. Many days, Leigh looks around in amazement at where God has brought her and what He has asked her to do. But having put her hand to the proverbial plow, this Centurion isn’t looking back. She’s looking up, and she’s dreaming of an even bigger home for women in need of a refuge.