Our dear sister in Christ, Jodi Hertz, penned this article that joyfully shares what it is like to spend a “week in the life of the Remnant Fellowship Prison Ministry.” Get ready to be ENCOURAGED!
As has been said from the stage by Gwen, as humans with a limited vocabulary, we lack the words to adequately communicate what God is like. In this case, it is difficult to describe what being a part of Remnant Fellowship Prison Ministry feels like; however, I will attempt to give you a glimpse into a typical week in the life of the Remnant Fellowship Prison Ministry:
Tuesday morning begins early for Vernon and Phyllis Eikenberry as they drive several hours to Calhoun State Prison. They will share love, hope, encouragement and truth God has poured out through Gwen Shamblin with approximately 80 men involved in the two services provided there on a weekly basis. On a different week, Linda Hardin, and Patty Mullins might depart Tennessee at 3:00am to join the Eikenberrys at Calhoun. Now it is Wednesday morning, and Greg MacPherson and Daniel Baker depart from the Church parking lot at 5:30am to share the love of God and a life- changing message with some inmates at a prison in Kentucky. A little later that morning, Robert Robinson and a group of selfless volunteers will gather at Weigh Down for an envelope stuffing, sealing, labeling and stamping party. They are preparing the weekly encouragement letter that goes out to 790 men and women in 60 different facilities in 12 different states. Inmates have often testified these letters come at just the perfect time to encourage them to persevere through the testing and persecution they encounter.
This brings us to Thursday, the busiest day for prison ministry. Greg and Cheri MacPherson will head to Georgia to do a morning service in Hays State prison and an afternoon service in Walker Prison. Meanwhile, Vernon and Phyllis Eikenberry will be heading out to do an afternoon service in Valdosta State Prison followed by an evening service in the Valdosta Transition Center. Other team members such as Linda Hardin, Patty Mullins, Aldith Diaz, Sherri Johnson, Carol Whitney, Ruth Beld, or I might join in for some of these services. Up in Ohio, Beth Smiley will be in the Claremont County jail on Thursday evenings reaching out to 10-20 women in that weekly service. Friday mornings, Linda Hardin along with Vernon and Phyllis Eikenberry go into Ware State Prison (where it all began) for a weekly service. They are often times joined by various other Team members who would typically depart Tennessee on Thursday evening, stay at the Eikenberrys’ house (which we lovingly refer to as the Eikenberry Inn) and head to Ware early Friday morning.
If you think the Prison Ministry week ends there, you would be wrong. Every Saturday, an extraordinary inmate named Will heads up a service at Hays State Prison. Will chose to become a member of Remnant Fellowship before he was transferred from Ware State Prison to Hays. He has persevered through much persecution and God has blessed him with favor at Hays. He is allowed to gather with a group of men in his dorm each Sabbath and share the message of love and hope God has poured out through Gwen with these precious seekers. The second Saturday of each month, Linda Hardin, Patty Mullins, and Vernon and Phyllis Eikenberry get to share this message of truth with inmates at Riverbend Correctional Facility. Additionally, Saturday and Sunday are when the Visitation Team, comprised of members like Jeff and Susan Abelt, Fred and Cheryl Fitzgerald, Jean Kurtz, Kitty Jackson, and Brenda Meyer go to Macon State Prison or Lee Arrendale State Prison to visit Joseph and Sonya Smith.
For those who may not know, precious and highly esteemed long time Remnant Fellowship members Joseph and Sonya Smith were falsely accused and have been imprisoned for many years now. Behind the scenes throughout the week, you have selfless Cathy Ackermann, who picks up, scans, and distributes the incoming letters and mails out the responses that come from the amazing letter writing team. She also puts in orders when material requests come in from inmates. These Weigh Down and Remnant Fellowship materials, which have all been generously donated to inmates in all of the prisons, as well as their interested family members, have been life-changing for everyone who receives them.
True love and meeting the needs of the hurting as taught through Weigh Down Ministries and Remnant Fellowship Church are definitely the hallmark of the Prison Ministry, and the abundant fruit is undeniable. We currently have 44 members in 20 different facilities and 7 members who have been released from Prison. Because of the transformed lives of those involved in the Prison Ministry, whether it is Beth in Ohio, or the team in Georgia, the inmates can see that we are different. They speak of the genuine love they see in us that some of them are only now experiencing for the first time in their lives. They testify how they have laid down strongholds of greed, anger, lust, and pride; and how they have found a relationship with God and are free and full of joy in the midst of very dark circumstances. The wardens and other officers testify how they have never seen such results as those produced from the Remnant Fellowship services. They have observed the changes in the men and that these changes are not just temporary. They thank us for coming and for making a difference in the Prisons. Both in Ohio and Georgia, the officers and chaplains speak very highly of us and they tell the inmates that ours is the service they need to attend and they need to listen to what is being shared because it is the real deal.
The Ministry efforts and the abundant fruit extend beyond the walls of the jails and prisons to those who have been released. Beth sometimes meets for coffee with former inmates and their families who are grateful for the changes they see in their loved ones and for the materials they have been given. In Georgia, there are 12 men released from prison we have regular contact with. We e-mail, call, and text with them, and we are blessed to stop and visit with them and their family members (who love to testify about the men’s changed lives) when we travel to Georgia for the weekly services. You may have met some of these men. Tony Andrews, Mark Eades, John Shaw, George Godfrey and Theng Houangvan have all journeyed to Tennessee to meet their brothers and sisters in Christ. The humility, childlike and joyful hearts, gratefulness to God, and huge smiles are common traits shared by each of these precious men. They inspire and encourage us with their changed lives. Perhaps you have received an encouraging phone call from Tony Andrews or read one of his encouraging posts on Facebook. Tony’s place in Georgia is where we sometimes host gatherings for the men who have been released, and at one such gathering we were blessed to gift each of the men a copy of Gwen’s History of the Love of God book and Michael Shamblin’s All Fall Down CD. They were extremely moved by Gwen and Michael’s generosity. Some of them even teared up as we filmed a short video clip of their thanks and appreciation that we got to share with Gwen and Michael.
The love of God extended to men and women incarcerated and to those released is simply an outpouring from our hearts of all we have been taught, and what we observe being lived out by our leaders in Remnant Fellowship. I know I speak for all those involved in Prison Ministry when I say that we are extremely humbled and honored that God would allow us to do anything for His Kingdom, and our service in this Ministry does not feel like a sacrifice at all. The transformation that we witness in these lives is nothing short of truly remarkable and we are definitely the blessed ones to be a part of something so beautiful for God’s glory!