Volunteer Linda Heaner equips women prisoners to discover who God designed them to be.
Prison Fellowship® volunteer Linda Joyce Heaner said "yes," but she had no idea what God was up to.
As founder and director of Abiding Hope Ministries, Linda has spent years leading women into deeper intimacy with Jesus, helping them find joy in becoming more fully who God has designed them to be.
An unexpected opportunity came her way in 2015. Linda received an invitation to the Prison Fellowship Academy® at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee, Minnesota, to introduce the women there to the Listen to My Life (LTML) Christian life-mapping tool.
The LTML tool guides participants to look at their life stories through the lens of God's work and purposes.
Linda explains, "The LTML Maps gently invite the women into deeper knowing of themselves and God by exploring their life stories."
"I had never been to a prison. I had never considered prison ministry—I had not thought about prison at all," Linda says. "Yet, I felt stirred to say 'yes,' unaware of the scope of God's plan."
Indeed, God was at work.
"When I called the co-authors of the LTML Maps with this news, I learned that they had prayed for years for the maps to be used in a prison setting!" Linda shares.
SHARING JESUS, FINDING HOME
At the intersection of her "yes" and God's plan to answer those prayers, Linda found common ground with the women she met at Shakopee.
"On my first visit to prison, I was surprised how at home I felt with the women in the class," Linda says. "We were more alike than different. … I was no stranger to pain, betrayal, heartache, or abuse, and I had received deep inner healing and restoration from Jesus. I longed for the women to experience God's deep love, forgiveness, and acceptance—to find home."
Incarcerated women are often at the end of a long, difficult road, one that has made them feel rejected, worthless, and hopeless. Without resources to heal the hurts beneath their previous choices, many women may remain in a destructive cycle. Prison Fellowship strives to show women the incredible love, acceptance, and purpose in Christ that awaits them both inside prison and out.
Volunteers like Linda play a vital role in this ministry.
"My life's work has been inviting others into deeper relationship with Jesus," Linda says. "At the end of our pilot Maps Class, I asked the women how they had changed during the year. One woman replied, 'When we did that meditation on the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7), I knew I was the lost sheep. And Jesus came and found me! For the first time in my life I felt loved.'"
With the time she spends behind bars, Linda has found new joy in her own journey.
"It's an honor and privilege for me and our Maps Team to serve the women at Shakopee through the Maps Class," Linda says. "To God be the glory!"
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