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   Dawn Wilson


Entries in Shonda Savage Whitworth (3)


The Silent Sufferers Among You

I met Shonda Savage Whitworth years ago. I had no idea what she was dealing with—but God has taught me much, seeing through her eyes. In this Ministry UPGRADE, she invites us to consider how we might minister to those a particular group of people who suffer in silence—prisoners' families.

“What do you imagine a family member of a prisoner looks like?” Shonda says, “She may be the person sitting next to you in church, working in your office, or ringing up your purchase.”

This is so true. I (Dawn) have friends and acquaintances whose loved ones are incarcerated, and the struggle in their lives is heartbreaking. I'm so glad Shonda is speaking up about this!

Shonda continues . . .

We do not easily identify prisoners’ families as they place themselves in the protective custody of their self-imposed emotional prison.

Yet, with approximately 2.3 million prisoners in the US, there are at least 4.6 million people who have a loved one in the penal system. Most likely more.

If prison families disclose that part of their lives, they risk being ostracized, so they choose to suffer in silence among us.

However, should you meet a prison family member who is a silent sufferer, here are three things you can do to upgrade their lives.

1. Commit to Pray.

For the family member of a prisoner, it is like becoming a missionary in a foreign land.

Families must adapt to new rules and learn new lingo for effective communication. Just as missionaries need prayer covering, so do the families of prisoners. I am grateful for the prayer warriors who pray for us.

Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18, HCSB). 

Intercession means to pray on the behalf of others.

I imagine a day where the church shares the prayer needs of “all the saints” affected by incarceration as commonly as they share the prayer needs of the infirmed.

Join others around the world in praying for prisoners, the prisoner’s families, the victims of crimes, and those who work in the criminal justice system by participating in:

Prison Week: A Week of Prayer — October 14-20.

2. Remember the Prisoner.

After my son’s conviction, I was told to forget about him and let him rot in jail.

I’ve met wives of prisoners who were told they should divorce their husband and move on. Sadly, that advice contradicts the Word of God.

Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them…” (Hebrews 13:3, HCSB).

It is important for families of prisoners, who are not victims of the prisoner’s crime, to stay connected with their incarcerated loved one. The visitations, phone calls, and letters make a significant difference to the inmate.

Staying connected becomes more difficult for families of prisoners who have lengthy sentences as time and distance takes its toll on them.

Extended family, friends, and church members can help the family by sending the inmate cards, books, and magazine subscriptions. This is especially meaningful during the holidays.

This small act of kindness shows them they are remembered.

3. Be Alert to Ways to Bless.

We took out two loans to pay for our son’s legal fees, which maxed out our monthly budget with no room for emergency expenses.

One weekend we traveled five hours each way to visit with our son. On our way home, we stopped for a break and my husband noticed a knot on a tire. While putting on the spare, he noticed the other three tires were practically bald. We traveled the remaining 120 miles home protected by the grace of God.

I shared with friends the testimony of God’s goodness to see us home safely without mentioning the unexpected financial need. A few days later a check arrived in the mail to cover the cost of new tires.

My friend’s alertness to the need and her gift blessed me significantly.

As parents of an inmate, we face on-going financial challenges. However, the financial burden is even greater for a spouse with children. For many of them, their two-income family suddenly became one and it stretches the checkbook just to meet the basic needs of life—shelter, food, and clothing.

Allow the Lord to prompt you when to help a family experiencing a financial burden due to a loved one’s incarceration.

Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality” (Romans 12:13, HCSB).

As the Christmas season approaches, one way to help the children of prisoners is to participate in Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program. This is an opportunity to give a gift and to share the gospel with children of the incarcerated in your local area.

You can upgrade the lives of prison families, who are the silent sufferers among you, by committing to pray for them, remembering the prisoner, and being alert to ways you can bless them.

Which of these three points might you be able to act on this week?

Shonda Savage Whitworth is the founder and president of Fortress of Hope Ministries, Inc., offering hope to those whose lives have been impacted by incarceration. Shonda connects with others through her personal experiences and testimony of God’s faithfulness in her life. You can read more stories about Shonda’s unexpected prison family journey on her blog.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Hanna Postova at Unsplash.


Hope for a Better Future

Shonda Savage Whitworth speaks words of hope from her own life experiences and the Word of God. In this UPLIFT post, she reminds us of a wonderful truth—God redeems tough situations for our growth, others’ good, and God’s glory.

“Before my son’s conviction, like many people, I thought of prison as being a dangerous place filled with angry men who fight with one another daily,” Shonda says.

“But now that I’ve that experienced the penal system through my son’s incarceration, my perception has changed.”

While I (Dawn) have always prayed for the persecuted church, in recent years because of various encounters, the Lord has moved me to pray for His children in prisons (Hebrews 13:3). I believe with all my heart the Lord redeems people and situations for His glory, and Shonda gives us two encouraging examples.

Shonda continues . . .

There are dangers in prison and there are angry people who live there. However, I’ve learned through my son and by meeting other families who have incarcerated loved ones, that most people in prison are a lot like us.

All throughout biblical history, the Lord demonstrated to us that He does not withhold a future for people who have a darkened past when they surrender their lives to Him, whether that was their own doing or brought on them by others.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT).

Let’s briefly look at two biblical heroes to see how God gave them better futures in spite of their past.

Let’s imagine their lives written as MODERN-DAY HEADLINES and stories.

1. Convicted Sex Offender Promoted to Second-in-Command

Joseph, a convicted sex offender, was released from prison and promoted to second-in-command after accurately interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams. The Pharaoh’s cupbearer, a former inmate with Joseph, remembered that Joseph had the God-given ability to interpret dreams.

Summoned to appear before Pharaoh, the Lord gave Joseph the meaning of the dreams and instructions on how to spare the land from famine. Therefore, Pharaoh appointed Joseph to be second-in-command of Egypt.

Joseph arrived in Egypt after his brothers kidnapped and sold him to slave traders. While serving as a slave to Potiphar, Joseph became a trusted manager. Joseph allegedly took advantage of his liberties and was accused by Mrs. Potiphar of inappropriate behavior.

Joseph testified that Mrs. Potiphar seduced him, and when he fled she kept his cloak. She testified thatWhen he heard me scream, he ran outside and got away, but he left his cloak behind with me” (Genesis 39:15 NLT).

The courts sided with Potiphar and sentenced Joseph to prison, though more testimony indicated this was a wrongful conviction.

Joseph was known for saving Egypt and the surrounding lands from seven years of famine, including the brothers who betrayed him.

Before his death, Joseph said to his brothers, You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT).

2. Murderer Turned Fugitive becomes Government and Religious Leader

Spared from death as an infant, Pharaoh sought the death penalty for adopted grandson, Moses, for his role in the murder of an Egyptian task master.

It was reported that “after looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand” (Exodus 2:12 NLT).

Fearing for his own life, Moses fled to the wilderness where he lived for 40 years as a fugitive. After the reigning Pharaoh died, the Lord summoned Moses to return to the land where he was born to lead the Israelites out of slavery.

After a miraculous parting of the Red Sea and safely crossing into the wilderness away from the pursuing Egyptians, God instructed Moses on how to establish the Israelite government and establish a house of worship for the Hebrew people.

Moses became known for writing the first five books of the Old Testament and was called a friend of God as the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11 NLT). 

Hope and a Future

When anyone—including inmates and their families—gives their heart to the Lord and repents of personal sins, that person become a new creation in Christ Jesus. With that surrender, there is the promise of a new life and the hope of a better future in Him on this side of eternity, just as demonstrated in the lives of Joseph and Moses.

Therefore, what if we, the people in our society, begin to look at the lives of those who are incarcerated as in training and in preparation for a better future?

What if we begin to partner with the Lord to help inmates and their families realize they have a hope for a better future?

Shonda Savage Whitworth is the founder and president of Fortress of Hope Ministries, Inc., offering hope to those whose lives have been impacted by incarceration. Shonda connects with others through her personal experiences and testimony of God’s faithfulness in her life. You can read more stories about Shonda’s unexpected prison family journey on her blog.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of TryJimmy at Pixabay.


An Unexpected Journey

Shonda Savage Whitworth offers hope to people whose lives have been impacted by incarceration. In this Ministry UPGRADE, she encourages us to consider how we might better minister to those who are imprisoned, and those who love them.

“I never imagined I’d be the mother of a convicted felon,” Shonda says. “My aspiration was for my boys to do well in school, earn a college degree, find gainful employment, marry a godly woman, and have children.

That was my (Dawn's) desire for my boys as well. Isn't that every mother's dream? But what happens when things don't go as we planned?

Shonda continues. . .

To the best of my knowledge, I trained up my children in the way they should go so that when they grew up they would not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).

We celebrated the love of Christ as a family both in church and home. At young ages, both boys professed Christ as their Savior.

I checked off the boxes on my good mother checklist:

  • Christian education
  • Regular church attendance
  • Sports activities
  • Family vacations

After my oldest son, Stephen, graduated from high school, his poor choices landed him in prison.

Prior to Stephen’s arrest, I never thought about prisoners and their families and to my knowledge, I didn’t know of anyone who had an incarcerated family member.

My husband served over 20 years as a federal law enforcement agent. In our circles of influence, we opposed those who committed crimes.

My perspective was that those who associated with criminals and supported prisoners were also to blame. 

However, after my son’s arrest, my stance shifted.

Though I never condoned the behavior that led to my son’s incarceration, as a mother, my love for him remains unconditional. I realized my previous view was skewed.

With so many emotions overwhelming me at once—pain, grief, guilt, and shame—I turned to my church family for help.

I experienced disappointment on top of my shock when the overall church body did not know what to do.

Statistics show that there are 2.3 million Americans in the penal system.[1] Surely there was some type of Christian family support in place for those all those families who have incarcerated loved ones.

Yet, I found none.

After my shock progressed through the stages of grief and finally reaching the point of acceptance, the Lord led me to share my testimony openly. With fear and trepidation, I talked about my incarcerated son in small settings. In sharing, I found others who connected with me because of our similar experiences. I found myself engaging with more and more people.

As I reached out to others, I found three things that those in the church who have a family member in prison desire:

1. To be able to share their issues without judgment, criticism or condemnation.

In the early days of this tribulation a friend said, “Shonda, I don’t understand what you’re going through. But if you’ll explain it to me, I’ll process it with you.” 

When those in the church who don’t understand what a family of a prisoner goes through, but show an interest in walking through it with them, it releases them from the fear of judgment, criticism, condemnation.

2. To receive prayer support and encouraging words from others.

My local church agreed I should host a support group meeting for families of prisoners. Now we have a safe place to foster new personal relationships, pray for one another’s specific needs, and share encouraging words with each other. We seek the Lord and He shows us new things.

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3 ESV).

3. For the church to mail cards, notes, or books to their incarcerated family member.

When those in the church body mail a birthday card, holiday card, or send a book to an incarcerated family member, they are fulfilling Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body” (ESV).

When the family member on the inside receives encouragement from those on the outside, chances are greater for him to walk closely with the Lord. This reduces the risk of recidivism.

My life’s course took an unexpected journey.

Now it’s my heart’s desire is to walk alongside those whose lives have been impacted by incarceration. And to show them the hope we have in our Redeemer Christ Jesus who restores of broken lives.

Do you know someone who is incarcerated? How might you encourage and minister to that person and their family? How might your church better fulfill Hebrews 13:3?

Shonda Savage Whitworth is the founder and president of Fortress of Hope Ministries, Inc., offering hope to those whose lives have been impacted by incarceration. Shonda connects with others through her personal experiences and testimony of God’s faithfulness in her life. You can read more stories about Shonda’s unexpected prison family journey on her blog.

[1] (assessed July 28, 2017)

Graphic adapted, courtesy of MarcelloRabozzi-Pixabay.