'I Was in Prison, and You Visited Me'
Meridian Church members bring hope and healing to women in southern Idaho prisons.
“Our primary mission is to help them to heal and to come to know Jesus,” says Kathy Beagles Coneff, Meridian Church member. “It’s not about proselytizing but about introducing them to Jesus and about emotional and spiritual healing.”
“And Jesus is the one doing the healing,” adds Grace Coneff, Beagles Coneff's mother-in-law. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Coneff responded to a call in 2018 by Dennis Parks of the Emmett Adventist Church for more volunteers in southern Idaho prisons. She was joined by Mary Kay Frey of the Eagle Church and a year later by Rebecca Welter of the Meridian Church. Beagles Coneff became part of the team soon after.
Coneff began the group with the Straight 2 the Heart (S2tH) ministry program. S2tH’s mission is “connecting wounded hearts to the heart of our Wounded Healer.” The program’s stated goal is heart and life transformation, fulfilling Christ’s mission statement to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free (see Luke 4:18).
An Effective Combination
Coneff’s ministry focus is healing prayer; Beagles Coneff is a teacher. During the months they’ve been visiting women in the South Boise Women’s Correctional Center and the South Idaho Correctional Institution, both located south of Kuna, Idaho, they’ve established what Beagles Coneff describes as a “good balance” with the twofold approach.
Beagles Coneff's teaching background came to the fore, and a format slowly evolved that draws more women to the meetings and encourages their personal engagement.
“I explored different versions of Steps to Christ to use with the women, including the coloring book version. But then Becky showed me there was a Steps to Christ: Recovery Edition already in print. I’d previously been using separate 12-step handouts to show the congruence of 12-step addiction recovery and Steps to Christ,” Beagles Coneff explains. “So, we give these to all the women who come. Steps to Christ is very love-of-God oriented, which is the basis of everything.”
“The coloring seemed to be a Holy Spirit idea,” she adds. “Through the Adventist Book Center you can get a pad of beautiful coloring pages called ‘Colors of Inspiration,’ with an Ellen White quote on each one. The women just tear off a page they choose and color it while we read aloud from Steps to Christ. It has worked beautifully. The women have expressed that it’s very calming for them. I have each woman read the quote on her page and we comment on it, and sometimes they explain why they chose it. The coloring has really upped the attendance.”
Besides Coneff’s individualized prayers for emotional healing, the women also write their names on an index card along with issues they would like the team to pray for that week.
“When they write their prayer requests, they sometimes pour out their hearts a little more deeply than when they share verbally,” Beagles Coneff says.
About 10 to 20 women, with an average age of 30, attend the hour-and-a-half weekly meetings at each prison. About half of them, Coneff says, are “very churched” and grew up attending services every Sunday; others have little knowledge of the Bible.
“They come from every type of background, but they’re so loveable,” Beagles Coneff says. “They’re just like a bunch of girls in the dorm. Most are in prison because of drug-and alcohol-related crimes, not for violent crimes.”
Coneff describes their ministry program as another tool to help the inmates to be successful once they’re released from prison. “I believe that if they follow this program, they won’t end up back in prison,” Coneff says. “Many of them are mothers, and they want to be good mothers when they get out. We’re there to help them do that.”
Finding Her Calling
Beagles Coneff originally didn’t feel called to prison ministry, but once she got involved, she says, it filled a need to teach others about Jesus.
“It falls perfectly within my personal mission statement, which is to experience, articulate and share with others the dynamics of fruitful discipleship,” Beagles Coneff says. “And in these classes, we can share anything. The women are perfectly open and share their experiences, strengths and hopes. Everyone is very real and vulnerable and accepting, and seeds are being sown.”
“They’re just happy that we come and that they can be with Christian women who love them,” Coneff says. “And God can do what He wants to with that. He’s the One who knows their hearts.”
For more information, you can email Grace Coneff.