Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Lives Built on the Cornerstone

Dannah Gresh: Many people who are incarcerated  reoffend once they’ve been released and end up back in prison. But when Jesus changes the heart of a former inmate, that changes everything! Here’s Jennifer Smith.

Jennifer Smith: I want to see them come out and watch their lives transform into women they thought they never could be or they’d been told they never could be. I want to see them go out and be the world changer that I believe that they can be.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Friday, December 4, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

A recent study from the U.S. Department of Justice offers sobering news about our prison system: 83% of state prisoners were arrested after getting out of prison at least once in the nine years following their release. That means a big majority of people leaving prison aren’t changed. They go back to their same lifestyle.

And, Nancy, we have a good friend who knows all about this problem and decided to do something about it.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Yes. Jennifer Smith is a precious friend who has devoted her life to helping women transition out of prison. She disciples these women in the Word of God. She helps them gain practical skills they are going to need on the outside, and she connects them with the broader Body of Christ.

If you've listened to Revive Our Hearts for any length of time, they’ve heard Jennifer before. She’s shared her powerful testimony of coming to faith in Jesus while she was in prison. She’s also shared about the amazing ministry the Lord gave her while she was still inside that prison. Then when she got out, the Lord led her, along with some other believers in her community, to open the Cornerstone Transition Home.

Dannah: Jennifer saw the need for a transitional home while she was still in prison. The Lord had transformed her life. She was still serving her sentence, and she began to care for the well-being of her fellow inmates.

Jennifer: I kept seeing the same women coming through the doors. They’d be there about six months; they’d get out, and they’d come right back. I just didn’t understand why they were coming back. Then after I began to speak with them, it was the same across the board—there’s no accountability out there, there’s no help, there’s no resources. They go back to the same people, places, and things, and fall back into the same patterns.

Dannah: This was even true for women who’d come to know Christ in prison and had been through a discipleship program.

Jennifer: I wanted them to go out and be those branches over the walls, to be able to go out—because I knew God had done a work. I’d seen it firsthand. They’re in the prison, in the program, and you’ve seen it happen. You’ve seen the good intentions that were there and those goals that they’d set. But then it’s like: Where was the follow through?

So He began to burden me for that, and not just outside the prison, but to come alongside of them in there and help be a mentor like I was being mentored.

Dannah: When it came time for Jennifer to go before a parole board, she had a solid plan. She was going to her parents’ house.

Now, if you’ve heard Jennifer on Revive Our Hearts before, you know her relationship with her parents growing up was very rocky. But God had changed all their hearts, and her parents did help provide the accountability and support she needed. She actually got that help from several places.

Jennifer: Even though I went to the same town, I had accountability. I had community around me. It was my family, but I also had mentors that had mentored me even in prison that continued that account once I was on the outside. So they helped walk with me, and I had that accountability.

But I had boundaries in place that I had set before I ever got out. These are boundaries that I can’t cross—that was in employment, that was in relationships, that was in friendships. I was not going to hang out in old places, friends, and all that. And I was actually tested in that.

I’d been out maybe a week, and I had an old friend come to my mom’s house. She asked if she could come in. I was actually going through a box that I’d sent home as I was being released. It had the letters that I had saved throughout the years of people who wrote me over the twelve years. And I said, “Well, if you can come and find a letter in that box, then you can come in, and we can visit.”

She just kind of hung her head, and she said, “Well, I can’t do that.”

And I said, “Then I can’t do that.” Then I said, “If you would like to come to . . .”—and I shared a church I was going to be giving my testimony—“I would be more than happy to visit there, but you can’t come in.”

So just setting those boundaries and not going back to those same situations . . . I learned how to handle stress. I learned how to handle conflict. I renewed my mind those years with the Word of God. So I had an arsenal of weapons that I could come out and fight with.

The enemy was there, and he was relentless in trying to make sure that you would stumble or put the temptation in your face. But because I had so many people pouring into my life, even Revive Our Hearts . . . From its birth, I was a listener—on my little headset in my little prison cell—for ten of those years before I actually ever got to come to my first conference in 2011.

Dannah: So if the parole system worked for Jennifer, why doesn’t it work for everybody?

Jennifer says plenty of parole officers work very hard to try and help parolees succeed. The problem is the system is overwhelmed by too many people.

Jennifer: They can’t do it. That’s where the church has an opportunity to step in and help these agencies out. In the beginning when the vision was given to me, I believe the church is the answer to the after care of those coming out of incarceration.

Dannah: After she finished her parole, Jennifer asked the Lord what He had for her in this new season of life, and the idea of opening a transition home continued to burn in her heart. The Lord started to build the team that could help this idea become reality.

Jennifer: I guess it was around 2014 when I had met Bethany Davis, who was at the church plant that I’d just recently joined there in Newport. She was teaching college on Tuesdays in the prison. Just in speaking with her, I knew immediately she had a heart for these women. So I just shared one day my desire, my vision to help these women.

She had never really been back in the prison where you could actually walk back in the prison itself. She’d always just went to the classroom. I was watching God actually call her to start going into the prison and becoming a part of this, but He hadn’t told her yet. So I was, like, “I’m not telling her. He’s going to have to tell her.”

She was teaching careers—eighteen years in a teaching career at a school, too, and was teaching college out there. She went in with me one day, and she sat down with these women in the prison. The first woman that she sat down with explained to her, “I’m getting out.”

And she asked the question, “Are you excited?”

And she said, “No, because I know I’ll be back.”

And that kind of made Bethany step back and say, “Why do you say that?”

And she explained the same story that I had seen played out. “I’m going back to my same people, places, and things, and I have no accountability. I have no resources.”

So that actually broke Bethany’s heart. On the way home from prison that day, she surrendered to the Lord and said, “I don’t know what You’re doing here, but it’s, ‘Yes!’”

Over the course of the new few months, we would pray and pray. Then finally we were just curious, “When do we step out from prayer to action, and what do we do next?”

We just shared the vision with our church. We started with our church, a group of ladies, and the Lord just began to move and open one door after the other after that—just to prove that He was the one that was ordaining this. He was opening those doors and just making it clear that this was the direction He was taking, not only her and her family, but me, too.

So we came together at her kitchen table on February 13. We didn’t have a dollar to our name. We didn’t have a board of directors. We didn’t have anything. We just had two “yeses” on the table that said, “We were willing to step out and say, ‘Yes, Lord,’ and follow Him in this direction.”

So He began to put within our hearts, people to ask to come on board. It wasn’t long that we had formed a board of directors. We had filed to become a 501C organization, and that was done. Then we just began sharing the vision with different organizations and churches.

Dannah: The Lord had assembled the small team. Now they needed the building, and He had a plan for that, too.

Jennifer: A lady approached us at a meeting where we had shared the vision, and she said, “How come you haven’t considered the Oakdale property?”—which was a former assisted living home there in the town that had actually not been in operation for about two years.

Well, we didn’t know that the owners were praying this whole two years to sell it, and that it would still be used in ministry, and it just wasn’t going through any of the sales.

So here we had been praying for a year, “When to step out?”

They approached us and said, “If you could raise a down payment of $20,000, they would owner finance the rest of it for us.”

So we’re like, “Well, that’s no problem. We could ask the Lord for that. He could sell some cattle and give us some money.” We began to share, and some funds began to come in.

Dannah: As they were raising funds, Bethany faced a crisis of belief.

She was a teacher and had to decide: “Should she renew her contract to teach another year, or should she commit to Cornerstone Transition Home even before all the funds were raised?”

The building wasn’t theirs yet, and they had no guarantee the ministry would even open.

Jennifer: She actually went to the property and was at this wing of the property. She just gave this idea of the Lord back to Him—“Maybe I’m not supposed to do this. I don’t know. I’m giving this back to You.”

That very day we got a call from the owners. They said, “We know you’re struggling. We want to make the same deal at $10,000.” That same day, she went to the post office, and there was a check for $2,000 in the post office.

That was just one of those small ways where the Lord showed up just to confirm that, “Yes, He’s in this and to trust Him.”

That day she decided she wasn’t going to fill her contract. She took that step of faith, and six months later, we were able to be licensed and opened our doors, and we had our first three residents on December 12 of that year.

Revive Our Hearts was very crucial in this whole process. Not only were they supporting us through prayer at that time, but we had brought a few former ladies that were incarcerated that were doing well to the True Woman Conference where I was sharing my testimony and kind of vision cast for Cornerstone.

Revive Our Hearts was actually going to be donating 10% of the offering to Cornerstone for us to open our doors, and they ended up gifting us with a $25,000 gift that enabled us to open our doors. Without that, we would not have been able to do that.

Dannah: Running a transition home is a lot like being a parent. It’s a 24/7 job.

Jennifer: We started with three residents, and Bethany and I had no clue. I think after the second day we sat across the table and said, “What are we doing?!” You know, with our hair pulled out.

We had no clue. We thought it was going to be one way, and it ended up being something totally different. You have this idea of how you think ministry is going to look, and you’re going to go home, and it’s going to shut off. Then you’re going to get up in the morning, and you’re going to go to the workplace, and you’re going to do ministry again.

That was not at all what was going to happen. This was going to be a place where the Lord was going to stretch us. He was going to cause us to pour our lives into these women and come alongside them, walking alongside them to get identification. These women don’t have any identification when they get out of prison. They come with a paper sack. That’s it. They don’t have any clothes. They don’t have anything.

So we were just like, “Oh, what do we do? What do we do?”

Immediately we began to seek the Lord. As we began to get organized, He began to direct us. Then we got a little bit more girls, and all of a sudden we grew to about five. We got used to handling that number, and then we grew to about eight. And we’re, like, “Oh, man, this is getting crazy!”

But the neat thing was before we even knew sometimes we had a need, He was providing it. At that point, we’re, like, “We need a vehicle because we’ve got to carry all these people around.”

Someone would show up and say, “Hey, the Lord has prompted me to give you a van.”

And we’re, like, “Yes!” We didn’t know we were going to need a van. 

Before we knew it, we had twelve. Then before we knew it, we had twenty-two.

Then the Lord began to grow our volunteers. But out of that, Bethany and I realized, “We can’t do this. We have to have help.”

He actually began to bring some residents out of the program that had graduated and who had done well and had proven that they had some strong leadership skills, and we were able to implement them back into a role of staff. That gave the other girls coming in hope. “Hey, they went through this program, and now they’re doing some staff things.”

Dannah: The team at Cornerstone Transition Home provided so much practical help to women coming out of prison. They also shared the ultimate hope we all need to be truly free. They taught these women about Jesus.

Jennifer: We know that’s the only thing that’s going to change these ladies’ lives. It’s the gospel that’s going to transform them. That’s where the power’s at, in the gospel, to do that. So it’s not going to be anything that we can actually do or anything that we can actually say. It’s the gospel.

Dannah: And the Lord is changing hearts at Cornerstone Transition Home.

Jennifer: Which leads me to a family that we love dearly. Her name is Elizabeth. We call her E.B. She’d been in prison six times. She came and really just surrendered her life to the Lord. I mean, she was all in with those all-in “yeses” where you just put your “yes” on the table.

She had an estranged daughter and mother that was living in Texas. They were so taken by the changes in her life, that when she finished the ninety-day program, she ended up staying six more months because she wasn’t ready. She had goals. She had to pay off fines, get a license—she wanted to get a car before she got out of the house.

So once those goals were in place, she came to us and said, “I think I’m ready.” 

We said, “We think you are, too.”

She was able to move into her own apartment. Her mom and daughter actually moved from Texas to live with her. It wasn’t long they were coming to classes at Cornerstone, and they were listening to the Lies Women Believe books, the studies, and they were going through the same curriculum that she had gone through. They both got saved and gave their heart to the Lord and were baptized. Now you have this daughter who is now reaching her family.

And there’s another element to that: She had a husband named Ricky who was also incarcerated, and he has not been out at this point yet. We began to pray for Ricky because she was concerned about his salvation. He got out in June, and within two weeks he was giving his life to the Lord.

This couple is on fire for the Lord in our community, his workplace. Now they’re expecting a child, their first child together. They just closed on their home. They’ve got a lot of new stuff going on right now in their life, but it’s stuff that they never could have done because they’ve never sought the Lord. They’ve never depended on Him. They’re doing it now as transformed new creatures.

It’s really neat just to step back and see how this one life was able to trickle out, and she became a missionary in her own family. And now she’s on staff with us full time.

Dannah: I know a lot of Revive Our Hearts listeners are thinking, That’s amazing! How can I get involved in the Cornerstone Transition Home?

Jennifer: Of course, prayer is the backbone. Prayer partnerships, financial partnerships. We’re funded three different ways. We’re funded through donors. We’re funded through rent that we collect from residents after a certain point in their program. And we’re funded through the State—only if the residents qualify for that.

Not everyone that we bring in receives funding. So these ladies sit in prison. They have nowhere to go because there’s no funding for them. Other transition homes will not touch them. We’re the only one in Arkansas that will bring a minimum into our home, and we just trust the Lord to provide. We trust Him in helping us select those applicants, and then He will provide doing that.

We need mission teams that come. We have ladies from different states that actually come there. They’ll spend the weekend. They’ll minister to the ladies, go in the prison. That’s helpful because they get to see the Body of Christ not only in our community, but as a whole around other States that are coming together to be a part of that.

Dannah: And, of course, you can pray for Jennifer and the team. Here are some ways you can take Cornerstone Transition Home before the Lord.

Jennifer: I want to see a community, developed within our community, of families that are being restored. Just like with E.B.’s family, their story is my prayer for every lady that comes through, that they will affect real change in their families, which will affect real change in their community—that domino effect.

I think these women have potential. My case is not unique. My life is not unique. I said, ‘Yes!’ to the Lord, and I surrendered to Him. They have that same potential because they have that same Christ living in them.

I want to see them come out and really understand that and grab ahold of that and tap into that and watch their lives transform into women that they thought that they never could be or they’d been told they never could be. I want to see them go out and be the world changer that I believe they could be.

Nancy: Wow! I always love hearing from Jennifer. I get late-night calls from Jennifer every once in a while, sharing updates on what God is doing through this ministry, my heart is so full. I’m really thankful that Revive Our Hearts has been able to partner with Cornerstone Transition Home over the years.

When you give to Revive Our Hearts, you’re helping us serve ministries to women like this one. Revive Our Hearts was involved in Jennifer’s story before Cornerstone ever opened. She listened to Revive Our Hearts faithfully from inside the prison when she was an inmate. Each weekday, as she was serving her sentence, she was being discipled in the Word of God.

And what a disciple of Jesus she has become—just a powerful, beautiful woman of God. Now she’s taking those truths that she learned from Revive Our Hearts, and she’s pouring into other women at a crucial and really difficult time in their lives.

Dannah: Revive Our Hearts wouldn’t have been available for Jennifer in that prison cell if it weren’t for listeners, friends like you, who supported this ministry. Think of how many women are being discipled, like Jennifer, day by day. They take the truths they hear on Revive Our Hearts and share them with others.

Nancy: I love seeing that process take place as one woman experiences God's transforming grace and then she shares that with others who are then changed. Then they become instruments of change in other women's lives.

You make it possible for us to continue making this kind of investment. Here in December when you give to Revive Our Hearts, your gift will be doubled! Some friends have established a matching challenge. So your donation over these next weeks will go twice as far.

We are asking the Lord to work through our listeners to meet that entire challenge amount of just over a million dollars. It will help us continue current outreaches like this daily program. And it will help us develop expanded ministry and new resources—new podcasts and ministry in additional languages.

I hope you'll help us meet that matching challenge. To make your gift, visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959. 

Dannah: You know, Nancy, I’m mindful that the work Jennifer is doing is difficult ministry. Could you take a moment to pray for Jennifer and the others who are ministering to those who are in prison?

Nancy: Yes, I’d be glad to, Dannah. I want to encourage you to join me as we pray together.

Lord, we lift our hearts up together with thanksgiving for how You set prisoners free—whether we’re in or out of physical prisons. We have been imprisoned by sin and all the bondage that brings, but You sent Jesus to rescue us, to redeem us, to bring us freedom through the truth.

I thank You for Jennifer Smith and for the team there at Cornerstone Transition Home and others who are in similar kinds of ministries, who are ministering the truth to women who are in the process of coming out—they’ve served time in jails or prisons, maybe a few weeks or months or years—but now they have that transition, and to know where to go from here. Some of them don’t know how to get a job or have any income or don’t know some basic life skills.

People like Jennifer Smith, and Bethany who serves there with her at Cornerstone, and others on that staff, they need Your grace. They need Your help. They need Your wisdom. I know Jennifer often calls me late at night and is just sharing with me what You’re doing. But she also shares the challenges of women who’ve never been parented. They don’t know basic life skills. They have addictive habits. They struggle in so many areas, and it seems like they take two steps forward, and then it’s three steps back sometimes.

And yet, You’ve called Jennifer and others like her to this kind of work. So give them Your grace. Give them the compassion of Christ to enable them to minister one on one to these precious women that You love and that You’re wanting to use, even as You did Jennifer. You took her out of that prison and are using her now to minister to those who are where she was years ago.

So we pray that out of these who are being ministered to now that there would be those that You would raise up new "Jennifers," additional ones who a generation from now would be reaching others with the love and compassion of Jesus. We thank You in His name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is calling women to freedom in Christ. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Speakers

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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Jennifer J. Smith

Jennifer J. Smith

Jennifer’s youth was filled with abuse, bitterness, addiction and violence that led her to spend eleven-and-a-half years in prison. During her incarceration she came to know her Savior and was …

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