Challis Castleberry, Trietsch’s Finance and Payroll Administrator, recently shared the story below of her finding her God-Purpose working with the Epiphany prison ministry and the incarcerated boys at the Gainesville State School.
Nehemiah was a Jewish cupbearer for the Persian King. Cupbearers were the most trusted guards for the king. Their job was to taste the food and drinks for the kings to make sure they were not being poisoned. Nehemiah loved Jerusalem and found out Jerusalem was being torn down and gates destroyed by fire.
In Nehemiah 1:4, he says, “When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted and prayed to the God of heaven.”
Nehemiah knew what he needed to do. If you are like me, you had a Nehemiah moment when your heart was broken, when you knew that something should be done but you feel the odds are against you or you don’t exactly know how to help. Nehemiah tells us that we need to ask God for success.
Let’s back up a few months to the day of my Nehemiah moment. I have tutored at Flower Mound Elementary for years. I have been a homework helper for many students, but the one that would rock my world came in a little package. He was the cutest little boy I had ever seen and we worked together for his first grade year and second grade year. I would show up to tutor him at 8 a.m. Sometimes I would find him in the cafeteria eating breakfast because he was late for school that day and his teacher would always ask him if he had eaten, if he hadn’t, she would send him to the cafeteria.
One day last May, I showed up to tutor him, and his teacher looked at me and said, “They didn’t call you did they?” No, they hadn’t. I walked closer to her, and as we huddled together she explained that CPS had come to his house a couple of nights before and removed him and his brother in the middle of the night. She wasn’t sure if the younger kids (3-year-old twins and an infant) had also been removed. I stood in her room, shocked and fighting back tears. What was going to happen to my sweet friend?
I was a wreck for the rest of the day. If you walked into my office I would start to cry. I often wonder what happened to him, but I did hear recently that he is back in the area. My little friend’s removal from his home was my Nehemiah moment. A Nehemiah moment is the moment your heart is broken and you know that something needs to be done. If we take these moments, stay with them and lean into them, these events will lead us to what our all-church study, Dare to Dream called, our burning bush.
Hurting kids, kids that feel unloved is my burning bush. I cried that day because I envisioned how lonely my little friend must have felt being taken from his home. How scared he must have been? I wasn’t sure of what to do, but I knew my call to action was just around the corner. I began to think about this a lot. “Well, if an opportunity came up, I would think about it.”
Lo and behold, Alyssa Robinson stood up at the next staff meeting and announced they needed another team member for the next Epiphany. Clearly, this was my opportunity. I often thought that my calling was elementary age kids, but I guess I was wrong. I haven’t spent a lot of time around teenagers, and I have to confess I am a little intimidated by them. But I knew deep in my soul this was clearly where I was supposed to serve.
Now, my name is Calm Challis from the Family of Kindness. I attended my first Epiphany weekend in January of this year at the Gainesville State School. I am forever changed by this weekend, and I am a better person for knowing the five young men that became part of my family that day. These boys are part of my family now and are some of the deepest-thinking young men I have ever met. We aren’t allowed to ask what they did to be placed in Gainesville State School, but after just a few short hours with these boys I didn’t really care what their crimes were.
Most of them are just kids that lack guidance and just made a few wrong choices that led to a few more wrong choices and landed them as wards of the state. I quickly began to empathize with these boys. How must they have felt, when they realized their mistake was going to take them away from their families or now they were going to go to jail, some for a pretty long time? I bet they felt scared, alone and unloved. Just like my little friend that I tutored did when he was taken from his home.
Javie grew up being raised by extended family. He doesn’t even know his dad, and his mom isn’t around. During the weekend, he would sit quietly and lightly pound the table and rap when there was down time. Trying to connect with him, I asked him about what rap musicians he liked. As a child of the 80s, I knew my fare share of rappers (Sir Mix a Lot, Beastie Boys, Snoop Dog, Ice Cube). He said he liked Lil Trill and Lil Snupe and I, in all my middle aged whiteness trying to be hip, asked if Lil Snupe was the son of Snoop Dog. All the boys got a laugh about that. “Miss, they aren’t even spelled the same.”
A couple of hours later Javie passed me a note that listed five different rappers with songs. He asked me to listen to them and tell him what I thought the next day because this was how he grew up. That night, Alyssa and I sat in our room and listened to rap music. To my delight, they were thoughtful and sincere, nothing offensive at all. Our table was asked to write a poem or song about a particular talks, and Javie was happy to write and perform an original song.
I quickly surmised that the over-arching theme for the weekend was, “Am I going to see you again?” “Will you write me a letter”? These were the two prominent questions that the boys had.
The motto for Epiphany is “Listen Listen, Love Love.” It is as simple as that. This ministry isn’t for everyone, but it is for me. I look forward the next Epiphany weekend and to the Tuesdays & Saturdays I can go up to Gainesville and see the boys. I get a little unsettled when it has been a while since I have been up there and look forward to mail. In reflecting upon Dare to Dream, my Big Dream will include the Gainesville boys. I don’t know what all this will involve, but I know I like spending time with them. I am prayerfully considering ways to make them feel loved and to improve their lives.
If you are interested in serving with the Epiphany prison ministry, email Kim Beck to get connected.