For some living through one’s “golden years” might mean leisurely strolls along Florida beaches, for others it may mean more time spent with the grandchildren. But for 74-year-old Brenda Shelby it means going to jail three days a week.
No, Brenda is not an inmate, nor is she an employee. She is a Bible teacher and a mentor to the female inmates at McCracken County Jail. Each week she volunteers to lead discussions about the Bible and offers counsel to women who want to learn how to live a healthy, more productive life than the one from which they came.
“We talk about lots of different things. Right now we are studying a book about the power of our words,” Brenda says.
Brenda began volunteering in prison ministry with members of her church. Each time she volunteered she grew to love the women and the ministry more.
“The more I volunteered the more I realized this is what God was calling me to do,” Brenda says. “Now I’ve been here for 20 years.”
Twenty years is a long time to serve a population of individuals who are often dismissed by society and labeled as hopeless individuals without a chance for redemption.
“So many people ask me why I do this,” Brenda says. “I tell them that I want these girls to have a better life. We all deserve to have a better life than what they’ve lived so far.”
While Brenda has never been incarcerated, she can relate to many of the emotional stresses that the women at the jail face. She has battled her own feelings of anger, bitterness and distrust.
“There was a time when I had walked away from the Lord,” Brenda says. “I had a lot of bitterness and anger about things that had happened to me as a child. I’ve always been honest with these girls. I never did drugs, but my sin took over my life and I knew I couldn’t keep on living that way.”
Brenda’s life changed dramatically about 40 years ago when she decided to recommit her life to Jesus Christ.
“I knew about God, but I was walking in the world,” she says. “I had an aunt who prayed for me constantly. She told me that she knew God had something for me. She told me that she was not going to stop praying for me. And that was it…right there…prayer. It changes people. It changes a lot of things.”
Today, Brenda offers that same gift of prayer and love to the female inmates she works with every week. So many of the women bring baggage from their past into the classroom. Many have lost custody of their children; some have severed relationships with their families as the result of drug and alcohol abuse. They are often angry at themselves for their bad choices, while others are also angry at their parents for introducing them to drugs in the first place.
“I’m praying that these girls will allow God to do something in their lives and that they can know without a shadow of a doubt that He is the one who can turn their lives around,” Brenda says. “I want these girls to have a chance at living a better life.”
Brenda’s desire to see women restored by the power of God is what earned her this month’s Difference Maker Award. This is an award given to individuals who demonstrate an exceptional level of service to the community with no benefit to themselves. As this month’s winner, Brenda will receive $250 and has the opportunity to win an additional $5,000 if chosen as the Difference Maker of the Year, with half of that amount awarded to the charity of Brenda’s choice.
“Brenda is an encouragement to people of all ages,” says Mike Riley, worship leader at Oasis Christian Center. “I have heard testimony after testimony of women sharing how Sister Brenda was the reason that so many of them have gotten out of jail and made a success of their lives. She gives of herself and her resources without asking for anything in return.”
For more information on the Difference Maker program go to www.inthevue.com
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