“When I heard about prison ministry, I thought, ‘why not?’ Those people are no different than me; I should have been in prison for all the things I that I have done.”
You might expect those words to be spoken by a big, burly, tattooed man who had been saved by grace, but that’s actually the testimony of Lois Spees. Spees is a petite octogenarian who attends Villas Grace, a Charis Fellowship congregation in Fort Myers, Fla. (Matt Niemier, pastor).
If you were to visit Villas Grace, you might see Spees and her friend, Cathy Allen, as two white-haired seniors that love singing hymns and telling stories of the “good old days.” But if you talked to them, you’d discover a great story of God’s redemptive power in both of their lives, and the story doesn’t end there.
Spees, 88, and Allen, 76, just returned from a mission trip to Arizona and Alaska to do prison ministry at six different correctional facilities. Their nearly month-long trip completes four decades of Gospel-focused outreach to the unseen behind bars.
Spees was saved from a life of drugs and alcohol on her 48th birthday. While contemplating suicide, in desperation she opened a Bible given to her by her boss. God used His Word to bring her to her knees. Within hours of meeting Jesus, Spees realized for the first time that she was an alcoholic, and the Lord removed her temptation for drinking. She immediately knew she must share with others what Jesus had done for her.
Spees fondly recalls her first evangelistic experience with Bill Glass Ministries in the early 1980’s, which was what got her “hooked on sharing the Gospel with anyone and everyone who would listen.” In 1995, with the encouragement of Steve Shipley, her pastor at Fort Myers Grace Brethren Church (now Villas Grace), Spees formed JOY Ministries for Jesus, Inc. Allen, who had also been doing prison ministry with Bill Glass, came on board as her administrative assistant, travel partner, and vocalist. JOY Ministries meetings feature Allen’s gift of music and always end with an opportunity for listeners to respond to the work of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. JOY Ministries also produced a devotional written by an inmate who had been impacted by the ministry, which they provide to the correctional facilities they partner with.
Though life has brought them much pain, they each are committed to bringing the joy of a life with Jesus to the men and women God has called them to serve. Prison ministry may seem like an unlikely place for two mature single women to do ministry, but in their obedience, they find God faithful to meet their needs.
Last fall, Spees had an accident that left her with four compression fractures in her lower back. It seemed unlikely that they would be able to make their annual July trip. However, God made a way.
“There wasn’t a time that I needed to stand that I couldn’t stand or a time that I needed to walk that I couldn’t walk. It was His strength – God provided for my needs!” says Spees with an unwavering enthusiasm.
“Prayer is the backbone of everything,” Allen adds.
There’s no question God has used Spees and Allen in extraordinary and unexpected ways because of their passion for the Gospel and their willingness to go where He sends them.
“The promises in God’s word are the most important thing,” says Spees, “God promises if you seek Him first, He’ll take care of the details.”
[Connect:] To send a note of encouragement to Spees and Allen, click here.
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.