By Anna McNeill Lewis
The story starts with a baby boy named Jonah, who needed a family to take him in when he was born to a mother who was in prison. But this is not an adoption story. This is a story about how that family, and over a hundred since, decided that it isn’t only about the kids after all. It’s about their mamas, too. Jonah went back home to a grandmother only two months later, but his new friends had become his mother’s friends as well. She came out of prison, not to a bus and a drop-off, but to a family, a support system, and a church that cared what happened to her. Jonah’s Journey is the ministry that came out of that one relationship.
Jonah’s Journey expanded fast in that first church in Tennessee, and grew to a point where more oversight was needed. Palmer Home joined in, and now the families stepping into the lives of these mothers’ and their children are being certified and receive training in how best to foster kids that are missing their moms. More importantly, they are learning how best to be Jesus to both of them.
These are voluntary placements, so mothers can trust they will get their children back, and the foster families are not paid. They just want to care for the children as if they were their own. This model means that instead of kids possibly becoming wards of the state or possibly living in unsuitable situations, they have Christian families taking them to see their moms and getting to know her. The ministry of Jonah’s Journey continues to grow and many of the referrals are from other mamas in the prison system that can see how much the mothers and their children are loved. Jonah’s mother noticed. Her son’s foster family is how she met God—after eight years of friendship. Other referrals are from law enforcement, prison staff, the Department of Children’s Services, and many others.
The next chapter for Jonah’s Journey starts right here in Mississippi, perhaps with some of you. I got involved several months ago after hearing that Jonah’s Journey was expanding, and it became obvious very quickly that God was out in front.
No sooner had I heard we needed to talk to key people in the prison system than my Sunday school teacher asked for a show of hands of state employees. One of those hands led us to shake hands with a dozen more at the Department of Corrections, eager to get Jonah’s Journey going in Mississippi. We’ve also met with women at a halfway home, Child Protective Services, and a state legislator.
So how do we get started? First, we need families that want to get their hands dirty. They will be well trained and well supported by caseworkers, but I can guarantee it will be difficult! Relationships are messy, and so are kids, honestly. Secondly, we need supporters—people who pray hard and give generously so that we can reach women and children already out there. Pray! Maybe you and your family get to be the next to see God touch lives in ways you didn’t even think about yesterday. Join the story!
For more information, please visit jonahsjourney.org or call 615.206.8881.
Anna McNeill Lewis is a single mom of three and attends Broadmoor Baptist Church in Madison, MS. Her great drive is waking up Jesus’ church to vulnerable people–whether in domestic abuse, foster care, trafficking or imprisonment.