When Kathy Diaz looks at a female inmate, she sees somebody’s daughter and somebody’s mother—for good reason.
Kathy Diaz, who has worked eight years at Bell Baptist Association, serves with Discipleship Unlimited in prison ministry. (PHOTO/Nan Dickson)“My mother was arrested and went to prison when I was 12,” she said, a fact she withheld from everyone until about 10 years ago.
Diaz worked at the Tri-River Baptist Area office in Gatesville when she met Linda Strom and learned about Discipleship Unlimited, a ministry to incarcerated women. She pledged her support—up to a point.
“I was not going inside,” Diaz said.
But Strom continued to invite her to prison to hear a presentation about her book, Karla Faye Tucker Set Free. Strom served as spiritual adviser to Tucker, the first woman executed in Texas in more than 100 years, who became a Christian and ministered from death row.
Caught off guard
Eventually Diaz agreed. But she was caught off-guard during the prison worship service when Strom called on her to give her Christian testimony.
“At this point, I had never shared my testimony anywhere—not even to my husband and family,” Diaz said. “The prison unit I was standing in that day was where my mother had served over 10 years, and it was the last place I saw my mother.”
For years, she had been crippled by fear someone would discover the truth about her past, but everything changed when she told the inmates her life story.
Prisoners participate in a Bible study at a faith-based dorm. (PHOTO/Nan Dickson)“Linda handed me a microphone, and God may as well have handed me a hammer, because he used it to tear down every wall I was hiding behind, and I haven’t stopped talking since,” she said.
Strom recalled asking Diaz to present her Christian testimony because she sensed her evangelistic spirit, but she had no idea what her story involved.
“After I called on her, I was talking to a chaplain at the back of the room when I realized what was happening. I was stunned and captivated by her story,” Strom said. “I realized then how the Lord had connected our hearts together.”
Diaz began helping to lead a Bible study at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville and has spent at least one evening a week there ever since. She and her husband, Rich, now serve as team leaders for a Bible study in the unit’s faith-based dorm.
Change from the inside out
“We want to help them change from the inside-out,” she said.
Looking back, Diaz believes God began preparing her family for their discipleship ministry in prison nine years earlier when a Texas Baptist Men volunteer team led an Experiencing God weekend at Live Oak Baptist Church in Gatesville. The event introduced the church to biblical discipleship principles as presented in Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King.
“Rich and I were new members at this church and were in a season of change with God. When we walked into that weekend, we had no idea what God had planned,” she said.
But God used the experience “to radically change our lives and give us a plan and purpose for our lives,” she added. “Everything that came after was a direct result of what he taught us through Experiencing God and the relationship we now have with God.”
Kathy Diaz (2nd from right), a prison ministry volunteer with Discipleship Unlimited, participates in Re-Ignite 2014—a weekend retreat at First Baptist Church in Rio Vista for recently released ex-offenders who participated in faith-based dorms. (PHOTO/Nan Dickson)In 2006, she helped launch a faith-based dorm at the Lane Murray Unit in Gatesville. Now she helps Discipleship Unlimited coordinate five dorms, lead Bible studies in three additional dorms, and offer weekly Bible studies and lead worship at several Gatesville and Marlin units. Discipleship Unlimited works closely with Inmate Discipler Fellowship, a TBM-related ministry that provides resources to prison and jail ministries.
“We are now team leaders in the faith-based dorm and have been helping to build up leadership teams and then send them out into other units to do the same thing,” Diaz explained.
“I love to see the transformation in the women, in how they see God, in how they see themselves and in how they grow in knowledge and faith while they are in the dorm.”
Reconnecting with estranged family members
She particularly delights in seeing women connect with estranged family—particularly building relationships with their children. She acknowledges it as a missing piece in her own life.
“I have forgiven my mother, but she has not chosen to accept my forgiveness,” she said.
But Diaz has seen women in prison learn to receive and accept forgiveness and reconnect with family. When “the light comes into their lives,” the incarcerated women experience dramatic change, she noted.
“One girl from India said she was grateful she came to prison. She believed God allowed it not only so she could become a Christian, but also so her whole family could be saved. She has shared with her family back home what she’s learning in Bible studies,” Diaz recalled.
“Another woman—a former Wiccan—said he felt like she had lived under a dark cloud and would never be good enough for God. She went from being hard-hearted to tender-hearted.”
Diaz, who has worked eight years for Bell Baptist Association, and her husband also started a Bible study in their home three and a half years ago.
“It has multiplied as three couples moved to Fort Bliss and another went to Austin, and they all have started Bible studies when they moved,” she said.
Everyday Disciples Church
The Diazes recognize many formerly incarcerated men and women feel uncomfortable in traditional churches. So, with the help of Bell Baptist Association and the Baptist General Convention of Texas, they are launching a congregation—Everyday Disciples Church—to help meet that need.
“It’s not just for ex-offenders, but we want it to be a church where they will feel welcome and comfortable,” she explained.
Texas Baptists help support start-up congregations like Everyday Disciples Church and discipleship ministries in prisons through their gifts to the Mary Hill Davis Offering for Texas Missions.
Bell Baptist Association makes its office building available as a meeting place for Everyday Disciples Church.
“Our director of mission says he wants it to be a church incubator,” Diaz said.
Participants in the home Bible study provide the core group for the church, which focuses on equipping Christians for day-to-day discipleship and service in the community.
“We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, loving our neighbors as ourselves,” Diaz said.