by Glenda Williams, BNc correspondent
GENEVA, Ala. (BNc) — Ernie Brooks is the present reigning Ms. Senior Geneva County. She is as lovely on the inside as she is on the outside. Ernie’s Christian beauty radiates with her smile and good deeds. A quiet, unassuming person, Ernie goes about doing good things for other people.
Ernie has been going into the local Geneva County jail, and teaching the ladies on Friday evenings for three years. In times past she has had others who have gone with her, but usually she goes alone.
The ladies have two picnic-type tables with benches that they sit around to study the Bible with Ernie. She says her classes range from 3-12 each week. When asked how many she thinks she has taught during the years, she said, “I think approximately 75.”
“While they are confined, they can see what you are talking about. It’s like a light bulb has gone off. I can tell a difference in their countenance. When I go back the next week, I have had them tell me they have been studying all week and waiting for me to come back,” Brooks recalls.
She looks forward to studying with them each week.
On Friday, Jan. 29, another one of Ernie’s converts was baptized into Christ at the Geneva, Ala., church building. Terri Webb felt a special bond to Ernie as they sat on the front pew waiting for her baptism. A close friendship often develops between student-inmates and teachers.
In thinking about her jail ministry work, Ernie said: “The downside is seeing those who make a full circle but come back in, like a revolving door. Deep down they haven’t made that commitment, and that is disappointing. If we had a program where we could be over them for a year after they get out and help them …” and her mind trailed off with that thought.
Some inmates get out and some go on to larger prisons. Ernie said, “We often lose contact with them when they move on, but we have to keep trying and teaching them, believing and hoping that we’ve made a lasting impression on their lives. At least we have done what we could. That’s all we’re commanded to do is go and teach.”
A smile came across her face when she thought of the one she has taught and seen baptized who she calls her “star.”
Ernie said, “I had high hopes and expectations for Brandi. After two relapses, she has gotten her head on straight.”
Ernie recalled how this past Christmas Brandi went with her to buy gifts to give the inmates.
“She has made drastic changes in her personal life, enrolled in a nearby college and is studying to be a drug counselor. I’m proud of Brandi.”
“That makes it all worthwhile,” Ernie said.
At one time Ernie said all her students were people she had already taught and baptized. She doesn’t let that discourage her from continuing to go and teach. She goes week after week, at 6:00 p.m., and encourages those who have returned to “get back up one more time than you fall down.”
May Ernie’s example inspire us all to reach out to those confined to jails. Those fields are indeed “white unto harvest” (John 4:35). “I was in jail and you visited me,” (Matthew 25:36) surely must mean more than stopping by to say hello on visitation day.
When asked how many she has taught and seen baptized, Ernie said, “I don’t know. I haven’t kept records.”
God has kept records, and he knows them by name.
Barbara has been involved in missions for over 25 years, both in the field and in publishing.