Since January 2007 I have been the Chaplain’s Assistant at the Fraser Valley Institution (FVI) for women in Abbotsford. Each Sunday afternoon I drive to Abbotsford to assist the chaplain, Rev. Wendy Murchy, with the prison’s chapel services. The main service is held in the sanctuary at 2 o’clock for the women in the medium and minimum security areas of the prison. There is a service in the maximum security unit each Sunday as well - sometimes we have to hold several if the women who choose to attend are not allowed to fraternize. Attendance varies each week but we see between 5 and 15 women in the main service and 1 to 4 in the services in the maximum security unit. When Wendy is away on holiday or out of town on business, I lead the services in her stead.
In January 2008 Wendy requested that I take over the Monday afternoon Bible Study she was doing with some prisoners in the maximum security unit. Leading this study has been a great blessing to me the two women who regularly attend this meeting are very hungry for God. Their participation in our study is “all in” and God has used our discussion and prayer times to demonstrate his love and his care, and to bring healing and strength when it is needed. I have been privileged to hear the stories of these women and to see the hand of God – and His love – in their lives. It humbles and inspires me to hear about the miraculous ways that He’s moved in answer to our prayers, even moving on the hearts of the “powers that be” within the prison sometimes to grant privileges that would have been impossible without Him. An example is that the women have been allowed to meet together each evening to pray and study the Bible together, even though they are on separate “ranges” which normally are not allowed to mix.
During our prayer times together, Wendy and I, and the women in my Bible Study, have been sensing that God wants to move in power inside the prison. In response, Wendy has formed a Chaplaincy Committee which meets on a bi-weekly basis. The committee includes Wendy, myself, as a representative of the community outside the prison, and a number of inmates who have demonstrated leadership qualities and a commitment to living the “new life” even outside of the chapel – which is challenging because of peer pressure. The mission of the committee is “to identify, address and support the spiritual needs of the women at FVI”.
On September 14th the Chaplaincy Committee held its first one day retreat on the prison grounds using the house where inmates’ family visits take place. The retreat was a time of team building, of spiritual strengthening, and of brainstorming ways that we can bless and impact the lives of the women confined to the institution – and the staff as well. The inmates came up with some wonderful ideas for events we can hold and ways that we can reach out to the other women in the institution, and some of these will be instituted within the next month. We certainly gained spiritual strength and unity through our time together as the Holy Spirit came down as we worshipped together before departing. One of the women exclaimed, “I feel the Holy Spirit!” and we could see it all over her as she was pink and rosy and shiny all over! Thank You, Lord, for manifesting the sense of Your Presence among us and for affirming us in our work among the inmates and staff of FVI. I would be very grateful for your prayers for our committee. We believe that God has a plan to draw inmates as well as the staff of the prison into relationship with Him and we want to hear from Him.
The song the women who attend chapel love to sing most is "Freedom", is based on 2 Corinthians 3:17: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. They know the true freedom that is available to them through faith in Jesus Christ. We hope to help others who are incarcerated to experience it too.