LarRyssa When I arrived at Candler this semester, I knew the Contextual Education I site where I wanted to work, feeling called to choose Arrendale. Why? Because I wanted to immerse myself in the site that both scared me the most, and would challenge everything in me.

Prison can be intimidating, as the environment is governed by a system of rigidity and authority. My first encounter with one of the women there involved her asking me for permission to speak, and from that moment on I wondered how in the world God would use me or if it was too late to back out.

Each week, my fellow interns and I make our way to the compound that houses general population inmates. My only agenda as a chaplain intern is to sit with and listen to those who are hurting, questioning, and searching for someone who will not only recognize and appreciate their gifts and talents, but will also recognize their humanity instead of the mistakes they’ve made.

One assumption I brought with me to Arrendale was the expectation that I would have to somehow bring Christ into the prison for these women, while simultaneously finding a way to offer them a sense of hope in the midst of their suffering and pain. You can imagine my surprise and relief when I discovered that God was already very much alive and present in the prison, already working to weave redemption into the lives and stories of the countless women I’ve encountered thus far. These women are nothing short of amazing, and they speak of God in ways that encourage and convict me in many personal areas of my life. They share messages of hope and perseverance, and talk often about the power and purpose of prayer. I believe that God has the ability to use individuals in a variety of contexts to speak into our lives and propel us to change.

Working at Arrendale this semester has been an invaluable opportunity that has allowed me to experience the work that we are called to do as Christians in the world. While I remain uncertain of God’s purposes for me in prison ministry, chaplaincy, or seminary as a whole, I am becoming more convinced of God’s faithfulness in these periods of doubt. The most moving thing the women at Lee Arrendale have taught me is that God is still in control, even when everything around me appears to be falling apart. Much has been undone both in my life and the lives of those around me this first semester, and I have questioned God’s role in the midst of this transition. In spite of all this, I cling to the shared hope of these women that even when we can’t see what’s around the corner, God is steadily leading us forward in love and preparing us for lives of humility and service.