When Gina was 23, she was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover cop. The typical sentence for that offense was two years’ probation. Gina, however, received the incongruous ruling of five years’ probation, plus a prison sentence.
No one looking in from the outside would have guessed Gina might end up in prison. She was the daughter of two missionary kids. Game nights and home cooked meals were staples in her childhood home. When their family had problems, they prayed about it, and they never went to bed angry.
“[The day I went to prison] was one of the scariest days of my life,” Gina said. “I was like Pollyanna in prison.”
But Gina can trace the roots of her addiction back to childhood. Because of her dad’s childhood as a missionary kid, he had moved 24 times before graduating from high school, and he was determined to keep his family in one place. However, he often had to travel because of his job in telecommunication.
“His heart was never to hurt us,” Gina said. “But when you’re a kid and your dad is gone all the time, the devil uses that.”
By the time Gina became a teenager, she was looking to boys for attention and affirmation. She still believed in God but felt ashamed, knowing the things she was doing weren’t right. Then when she reached college, she discovered pot and the friends who came with it.
“Pot became my thing,” she said. “Some people could take it or leave it, but I had to do it all the time.”
Prison may have been frightening, but Gina met amazing, strong women while she was there. This was an eye-opening experience, since Gina had entered prison half-expecting to convert everyone to Christianity.
“God had me there for a reason,” she said. “When I left, I was hoping the reason would be that I would never go back to drugs again.”
But within six months of leaving prison, Gina was right back in her addiction. She was terrified of getting caught, knowing that if she was convicted of possession again, she would go back to prison, for 10 years this time.
Then, one day, as she was smoking pot on her basement stairs, she heard God speak. “This isn’t about you getting in trouble again,” he said. “You will figure out how to get free from this, and when you do, you’ll take those truths back to prison.”
It has taken time, but that is what she has done. Today, Gina is the founder of Beauty for Ashes Ministry (BFAM), a prison and re-entry ministry.
Her road to healing began when she found the right church. Eventually, she told her pastor about her continued addiction, and he reassured her that her struggles were nothing unusual.
With that, Gina was able to take a deep breath of relief and release. “I experienced grace,” she explained. “That was a turning point for me.”
At her church, she also met her husband, a man who encouraged her desire for freedom. Then, Gina took a class at her church called Oaks of Righteousness, and it completely changed her life. Through it, she was able to confront the lies she had believed about herself, to forgive her father for working away from home, and to forgive the church that had shunned her when she began struggling as a teenager.
In the last class, the ministry leaders prayed for Gina, and one of them told her, “I don’t know what you’re struggling with, but I get this strong feeling that it’s gone.” Sure enough, Gina’s addiction was gone from that day forward.
About a year later, a friend connected her with the Inner Change Freedom Initiative (IFI), a branch of Chuck Coulson’s prison ministry. Gina learned that this initiative worked with the women’s prison in Vandalia, Missouri – the same prison she had been incarcerated in years before. IFI was also in a local men’s prison in Lansing, Kansas. Soon, both Gina and her husband were teaching classes at Lansing.
When IFI had to downsize the number of prison programs they were running, Gina knew it might be time for Beauty for Ashes to take over where IFI left off. But only four days before, she had also found her dream house for a prison re-entry program. That week, she and her husband took a trip to St. Louis, and along the way, tried to decide which opportunity they should pursue.
In St. Louis, they took a trip to the top of the Arch – a challenge for Gina since heights terrify her. When they reached the top, Gina felt God impress these words on her: “I’m going to take you to heights like this. Just keep trusting in who I am and what I’ve called you to do.”
After that, they met with IFI who agreed to let Beauty for Ashes take over their program.
Today, Beauty for Ashes Re-entry (BFAR) takes prisoners through the Oaks of Righteousness material that changed Gina’s life. It offers regular worship services and classes that both teach practical skills and help people work through emotional issues. BFAR also helps women readjust once they get out of prison, though they don’t yet have a re-entry house. Gina still dreams of opening one someday and believes it is something God will provide for in the future, but she has no doubt that God has directed her path so far.
Running Beauty for Ashes has its challenges. Whenever one of the ladies has a relapse or Beauty for Ashes struggles with finances, Gina finds it discouraging.
“But then God shows up. I know he has me right where he wants me.”