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Marriage, Prison, and God’s Word

How one couple found hope and healing along a trail of brokenness

September 6, 2023

“There’s been a lot of tragedy in my life and a lot of sin,” said Lisa, a Today in the Word reader in central Oregon. Lisa’s husband, John, is completing a decade-long prison sentence. He will be released from a medium-security penitentiary in April 2022. But something happened to John during his time behind bars that transformed not only his life but their marriage.

Lisa met John after her first husband passed away. Lisa was impressed by the way John cared not just for her but also for her children. After they married, Lisa and John began attending church together, but Lisa says John would be the first to admit that he increasingly neglected his Bible until he rarely picked it up. The couple talked about spiritual matters, but they rarely spent time in God’s Word together.

In the years that followed, John fell away from God and into sin. Tragic choices resulted in John being sent to prison in 2011. He left behind a trail of brokenness. The tragedy had lasting effects not only on Lisa but her extended family. Relationships were fractured, and forgiveness was hard to find. But God was not done with them.

Reconciliation through God’s Word

Even before John was arrested, the Holy Spirit convicted him, and he turned to God’s Word. A pastor who had helped counsel the family had been educated at Moody Bible Institute, so John had a level of trust for Moody teaching. Lisa, who had previously been involved in women’s Bible studies, also returned to God’s Word for comfort and direction.

Once he entered prison, John found it hard to get his hands on reliable biblical resources, and he desperately wanted to continue learning God’s Word. Within the prison walls, John was handed a Today in the Word Bible study through the Set Free prison ministry.

Today in the Word is a daily Bible devotional produced by Moody Bible Institute. Each month, more than 4,500 inmates receive the devotional through partnering prison ministries. This year, an additional l00,000 inmates will receive a special “through the gospels” devotional thanks to a partnership with Prison Fellowship.

John told Lisa about the Bible study, and she signed up for the daily email. As the couple studied God’s Word, they would often discuss it by phone. Lisa wrote to the Today in the Word team to explain how spending consistent time in Scripture changed their relationship:

“My husband has been incarcerated for 10 1/2 years. He releases in less than six months. For nearly the entire time, you have provided him with the Today in the Word publication. For nearly 10 years, he has read the printed publication and I have read the emailed version that arrives in my inbox every night. This has been an invaluable resource for our individual spiritual growth and our marriage relationship. Thank you.”

Dramatic life change

Their devotion to God’s Word was transformative. Lisa accepted a position at her church and began writing support material for her pastor’s sermons and Bible studies for the church’s women’s ministry. She spent hours studying the Word.

Meanwhile, John found himself wanting to go deeper as well. He enrolled in Moody Bible Institute’s Distance Learning program, earning his Bible and ministry certificate. Still hungry, he enrolled in a Prison Fellowship program.

“Studying and teaching God’s Word is what He has called us to,” Lisa said.

“The church I’m in now is super supportive,” Lisa said. “Some of the men write letters to my husband and have built relationships with him.”

The importance of prison ministry

But Lisa has found that not every church (or Christian) understands the need to reach the incarcerated for Christ.

“I’ve even experienced some antagonism and even shame from people in churches,” Lisa said. “One pastor even told me, ‘I’m not called to prison ministry, so we don’t do anything about it.’

“There is still a lot of condemnation toward those in prison. I think we tend to think those in prison are locked away so we don’t have to worry about them. But there are very few prisoners in for life. Almost all of them are going to be released. So, you want to see changed lives!”

Lisa is amazed at how God and His Word have transformed John’s life while imprisoned.

“The Bible shows us that the people who God uses and the people who submit to God are the ones who are most broken,” Lisa said. “Prison is one of the places people get very broken. What better time is there to meet people with God’s Word? If we give them that, God’s Word will do its work.”

Strength from spending each day in the Word

John hopes his story will encourage others to stay close to God and to spend consistent time in His Word. Lisa and John both ask for prayer as they reunite in April after more than 10 years apart. Pray that God will continue to use His Word in their lives and in the lives of others who are still behind bars.

“It's been a joy to read Today in the Word,” Lisa said. “And I’m sure we will continue even when he releases.”