No Ministry Fears
When Pastor George Edgerly of First Pentecostal Assembly of God in Ottumwa, Iowa, learned that the local jail needed a women’s chaplain, his pick for the ministry was someone active in his church who had never seen him clearly.
Retinitis pigmentosa, a retina disease, had robbed the eyesight of Linda Sue Fears by degrees. Declared legally blind in 1978, she continued teaching General Educational Development test classes at a community college until she lost her reading vision in the mid-1990s.
“They wanted somebody who knew the Word and was nonjudgmental, someone who cares,” says Fears, 66. “That job does not require eyesight.”
Fears belonged to the church, which her great-grandfather founded in 1921, and she plugged into ministry. The jail outreach, however, required that she have ministry credentials. She enrolled with Global University, using audio books and study guides from the Assemblies of God Center for the Blind, and passed her tests. In 2001, Fears launched Glad & Sad Jail Ministry.
The stories of how each woman came to be behind bars at Wapello County Jail carry a common thread of methamphetamines, according to Fears.
“Everything is drug-related — making, using, stealing, violence,” Fears says. “A lot of them are repeat offenders and they know me from before.”
Fears meets once each week with a women’s group that averages nine; she meets privately by appointment for pastoral counseling. Ages of the women range from 18 to 57. Each newly incarcerated woman receives a copy of the “Life On the Inside" Bible and other material. Glad & Sad has created a Christian library for all inmates.
The real work comes in the follow-up when inmates leave the jail. Some are released locally, but most go to treatment centers or correctional facilities elsewhere. Fears’ aim is to lead women to salvation in Christ, and to help them find training, addiction recovery, or other services for full integration back into society and to get plugged into a church.
Blindness actually has proven to be a ministry asset, she says.
“I’ve had girls tell me that they feel safe with me,” Fears says. “They say because I can’t see them, I can’t judge them.”
Not only is the blind grandmother nonthreatening, blindness has an advantage in evangelizing.
“There is something about being blind that grabs a person’s attention,” Fears says. “It takes away all excuses. My girls learn quickly that what they decide to do with Jesus really is their own choice and responsibility.”
Inmates sometimes make excuses that they can’t go to church because they don’t have transportation, or they have to resort to crime to provide for their kids.
Fears doesn’t have a car. Friends get her to and from the jail and to church and other places she needs to go. She also raised her three children alone without resorting to anything illegal.
Overall, she’s found prisoners are receptive to the gospel, and she has led many in prayers of repentance.
“It’s a very ripe field,” she says. “I teach them God is a loving God.”
“Linda’s church recognized the talents and gifts inside her,” says Paul Weingartner, director of the Center for the Blind. “So many churches overlook the potential of the blind. Linda challenges all that.”