Pat knew God had called her to prison ministry, but the work was hard and long. And then God sent her Stan.
Pat first went into a prison 30 years ago. A long-time Prison Fellowship® volunteer and friend had invited her to volunteer behind bars. "Either you will be repulsed or hooked," Pat's friend warned her.
"I guess I was hooked," says Pat, now 80. She's been going into Oklahoma prisons ever since, and there is no indication that she ever plans to quit.
Born and raised in the Sooner State, Pat was a schoolteacher long before she ever considered serving behind bars. But after her son was briefly incarcerated, she felt a tug toward prison ministry—a tug that grew stronger after observing a Prison Fellowship program. There, she witnessed something deeper than "jailhouse religion." She saw prisoners discovering the transformative hope of the Gospel and striving to walk closer with Christ.
All it took was that first glimpse of in-prison discipleship. Pat began volunteering frequently and started leading Prison Fellowship programming behind bars. She often came face-to-face with former students who had gone astray. The brokenness of her community became more real with each familiar face.
The work was hard and lonely. The Prison Fellowship staff in her area began to dwindle over time due to budget cuts. It would have been much easier to close that chapter of ministry and move on to something else. But Pat saw the work to be done, and she kept raising up others to join her on the journey.
'YOU NEED TO BE IN PRISON'
Pat had been educating prison volunteers for a decade when Stan Mills noticed a newspaper ad for her training seminar. The tiny, bold print read, "You need to be in prison."
Stan already had been. A former Air Force flight instructor, his life began to crumble when his marriage ended. He went "into some dark places" on a road that led him to prison at age 45, where he spent almost four years behind bars.
During his time in prison, Stan found mentors who encouraged him to grow in his Christian faith. With the support of caring volunteers and Christian community, Stan realized crucial errors in his thinking and behavior. He committed to change. "They [the volunteers] would pour out this love and this dedication … to people that they didn't know and would probably never see again," he says. "I thought, Maybe I could do that someday."
Stan had a list of goals for his first year out of prison—find a job, pay his bills, and own a home. By the end of the year, he had accomplished all three, and it was time to set a new goal. He prayed, God, You have met all of my needs. What can I do for You?
Pat's newspaper ad was a clear answer, and Stan headed to the training session. He still remembers driving a mile up the road that snowy December day.
A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN
From the moment Stan arrived, Pat and the other volunteers were impressed. "We saw Christ in this man," she says. "And we realized that he could be an asset to Prison Fellowship."
Due to his criminal record, Stan couldn't volunteer in prison right away, but he still managed to step up however he could. He aided the training seminars and recruited churches for prison ministry. And over the next year, he and Pat became close friends as they served alongside each other.
"One day, he took my hand, and it was different," Pat says, cracking a smile. "I said, 'I'm old enough to be your mother.' And he looked at me and smiled and said, 'Well, maybe [an] older sister, but not [a] mother! Does that make a difference?' And I said, 'No.' And we were married within about two months."
It was, as they say, a match made in heaven. Or, in this case, in prison.
Pat and Stan both had experience as teachers, so it was a challenge to share the instructor role at times; but Pat says that "the Lord just blended us together." Perhaps nothing has deepened their relationship with each other—and with God—as much as serving in prison. Over the last 20 years, Stan has taken on an increasing responsibility for instructing classes.
"Inmates need to see what loving couples look like," says Pat.
Today Pat and Stan look forward to helping lead the Prison Fellowship Academy® at Dick Conner Correctional, where they have been teaching Prison Fellowship Connection Classes twice a week for many years. The couple believes this holistic, intensive program is exactly what the incarcerated men and women in their home state need to transform and live purposefully.
"The Academy is going to be a wonderful program," Pat gushes. "We understand that the first women's Academy graduated just recently. We are excited to be involved."
The Mills are expectant for what God has planned for their state in the years to come. And they are thankful for what they have seen God accomplish in so many lives—in prisoners' and in theirs.
“A passion shared [between] a couple makes that couple even stronger,” says Pat.
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