Last Thursday I participated in the worship service in the County Jail again. There were 11 of us women sitting together in the circle – the chaplain, myself, and nine inmates. The New Testament reading was the last chapter of Romans. We went around the circle, each of us reading one verse. Here’s how the chapter starts.
I have good things to say about Phoebe, who is a leader in the church at Cenchreae. Welcome her in a way that is proper for someone who has faith in the Lord and is one of God’s own people. Help her in any way you can. After all, she has proved to be a respected leader for many others, including me.
Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila. They have not only served Christ Jesus together with me, but they have even risked their lives for me. I am grateful for them and so are all the Gentile churches. Greet the church that meets in their home.
Greet my dear friend Epaenetus, who was the first person in Asia to have faith in Christ.
Greet Mary, who has worked so hard for you. [Romans 16:1-6 Contemporary English Version]
The next ten verses were similar personal greetings from the Apostle Paul to all kinds of good people in Rome, people who had helped Paul or other Christians over the years as the first Christian churches were being formed. Then Paul gives his final words of advice and blessing, and the letter to the church in Rome ends.
I’ve never really thought much about the last chapter of Romans. As we read the verses, one by one, the most notable part of the chapter seemed to be how hard it was to pronounce some of the names, especially as we were reading out loud. But then the chaplain said something that made me realize – that’s why these verses are in the Bible! She said, “As we give our testimonies today, think about what your ministry is, or what new ministry you may be about to begin. For example, your ministry may be a ministry of kindness.” That’s it! These people in the book of Romans were examples to us that we each have a ministry that we are called to, regardless of what our circumstances are.
One of the first inmates to give her testimony set the tone for this time of sharing. She said, “My daughter is dying. I know the pain of losing a child. When I get out of here I want to go to support groups to help others going through this pain.” There were tears in her eyes.
Another inmate said, “My ministry is singing and teaching. My parents are pastors, and we’re always singing in our house. Even things like, ‘where’s the cell phone?’ – we don’t say it, we sing it. I love to sing and to teach. My ministry is doing that – singing and teaching.”
The woman sitting next to me said, “I used to volunteer with helping people in domestic abuse situations. Actually, I used to be a case manager. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a job like that again now that I have a criminal record, but maybe I can still volunteer. That’s my ministry, helping people who have been abused.”
A young woman said, “I used to work in a nursing home. I really liked that – caring for people who need help. I couldn’t work with hospice, with people dying all the time. I get too attached to them. But I loved working in a nursing home where I could help people.”
There clearly was a common theme among these testimonies – helping others, just like the people named in the book of Romans.
Would you care to join us in our circle and give your testimony – what ministry has God called you to?