Parents sustained by faith - Word&Way

Parents sustained by faith

Jackie Huffman sighed as she pondered what she and husband Keith could possibly do to help their daughter when she is released from prison. Not much, Jackie fears.

The Huffmans have tried several avenues over the last 20 years in which daughter Becki has been in and out of the Missouri prison system. And little help is available through the state system or at most Baptist churches, the Huffmans have experienced.

Jackie and Keith adopted Becki after her parents, both addicted to drugs, gave up the girl and her brother. Later, Jackie met the couple who had adopted the brother. "The other mother said, ‘I can’t believe how alike they are,’" Jackie explained.

As she searched for answers, Jackie finally learned from a psychiatrist that part of Becki’s brain was dead, a result of her birth mother’s drug use. That knowledge helped the couple deal with their own feelings of guilt over their daughter’s behavior, including her decision to use drugs. Jackie believes the state tried to help their daughter at one point by placing her in the system’s drug treatment facility.

The Huffmans have encountered only a few faith-based restorative ministries for women. One of those Jackie feels has been successful is Teen Challenge. But Becki wouldn’t go, in part because it isn’t close enough to their home in southeast Missouri.

Founded in 1958, Teen Challenge has offered its residential program in St. Louis, primarily for men, since 1966. The ministry currently operates facilities in Ozark and Kansas City, in addition to St. Louis. Though originally an outreach to teens, services now are open to people of all ages.

Although individual believers have reached out to and supported Jackie and Keith, the church generally has not. In fact, the couple indirectly lost a ministry position over their daughter’s incarceration.

Some people "have been willing to talk, to cry and to pray with us," Jackie said. But there also have been "lots of people who didn’t want us around."

Shortly after their daughter got into trouble, church leaders told the couple they "had not done what they were supposed to do" as parents, Jackie said. While many members supported the Huffmans, those who wanted them out were primarily deacons, deacons’ wives and other ministers on staff.

After Huffman went into associational work, the couple rarely talked about the situation unless directly asked. He has since retired.

They also have been legal guardians for their granddaughter — Becki’s daughter. They have been honest with her and have done their best to help her develop a strong relationship with the Lord. Their granddaughter sometimes struggles with making life choices now as an adult.

Jackie believes that church-based programs such as Celebrate Recovery might have helped Becki, but none have been available in the churches the Huffmans have attended.

She also feels both the state system and the church could do more, particularly to help women find jobs when they are released.

Jackie advises parents of incarcerated women to hold onto their faith and not to blame themselves. Her faith developed and strengthened early in life through participation in women’s missions organizations. She also credits a strong Baptist Student Union program while in college.

"I have not given up on faith in God," she emphasized. "I think you go through times when you ask yourself: What have I done to cause this? But I’ve looked back and I just can’t see anything…. I have to just keep trusting the Lord."