Desire to reach the mission field down the road lands woman in jail

Ben Greene

Pastor & writer

  • Missions

Through the reinforced glass of a small Wisconsin jail, Martha Anderson sees Jessi* (name changed for security purposes), a Native American woman she’s never met.

Jessi felt tremendous despair at the time, sharing with guards how eager she was to die. It was such a dark time, yet she believed, like many Indigenous tribal members, that she wasn’t allowed to read the Bible.

During their conversation, an answer to Anderson’s many prayers for native peoples advanced in the heart of a human being just a few feet away. Anderson, a former teacher and principal, had seen the walls between people groups in the community alongside people’s struggles with addictions, traumas and generational pain.

Neither reinforced glass nor spiritual misunderstandings can stop God’s love and power. 

“He opened the door through visiting with Jessi,” Anderson said. “[Jessi] went from saying, ‘We’re not allowed to read the Bible’ to telling everybody she’s following the Jesus way and inviting everybody in the cell to go with her,” Anderson said.

A significant number of natives are incarcerated in local jails, Anderson said. So she’s been going to correctional facilities north and south of her home for two decades. She’s met with hundreds or maybe thousands of people like Jessi.

“That has been my entry to telling natives about Jesus, which was the cry of my heart some 30 years ago,” she said.

She gathers with men and women in two jails for Bible studies, one-on-one meetings and prayer. She credits God’s answer to prayer for breaking through with every Indigenous person who trusted Christ. 

“I believe that’s where it all begins and ends,” she said of persistent prayer.

On Tuesday nights, between six and eight people join Anderson at Holy Cross, a small Wisconsin church about four miles from a reservation. At that church, they pray for the hard hearts and spiritual strongholds Anderson has seen since the 1990s.

Many women read the word for themselves and listen intently to Anderson as she teaches the Scriptures.

Part of God’s work since those times resulted in churches that are getting more involved in ministry to First Peoples. Converge has started the First Peoples Initiative, led by Ryan O’Leary, asking God for a gospel movement among the least-reached First Peoples of America and Canada.

Related: Hear from Ryan O’Leary about the strategic centers within the initiative. 

Anderson’s connection to First Peoples has revealed the difficulties of discipling these men and women. They can develop good habits of seeking Christ while incarcerated, and then, when they are released, they begin to struggle with drugs or other oppositions to following Christ.

“It’s a journey, not a straight line,” she said.

But the word of God is making a powerful impact as people find Christ in the Scriptures and respond to the friend of sinners. And Anderson and the team keep praying and patiently loving them, speaking the truth, and being involved in their lives.   

Six natives in the area want to reach their people, Anderson explained. She’s deeply connected to Thomas* (name changed for security purposes), a man in prison near Green Bay. Part of his sentence included solitary confinement, where he had nothing but a Bible, pillow and blanket. 

“He has been married to that Bible ever since,” Anderson said. “It is changing his life.”

Thomas told Anderson that he wants to start an evangelistic ministry to First Peoples. Part of his goal is to attend Mokahum Discipleship Ministry’s training center in Minnesota. Mokahum staff employ biblical education, character formation and ministry training to Native Americans and First Nations people for the Lord’s service.

She said believers in America and Canada have an incredible gospel opportunity without ever leaving their country.

“There’s a mission field down the road,” she said.

Seventy thousand people will die today, never once having any chance to hear a credible presentation of the gospel. Converge International Ministries is asking God for a gospel movement among every least-reached people group – in our generation.

Ben Greene, Pastor & writer

Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.

Additional articles by Ben Greene