This is a story of pain and dysfunction. This is also a story of resilience and marvelous beauty, all springing to life in a sweet woman who is also a regular attender here at Westside: Teri Crump. Her testimony cuts to the heart of human existence, and her struggle to find who she is speaks to us all.
Though you would never know it by looking at her kind smile, Teri’s childhood was tainted by abuse and neglect. Often left alone with her five brothers, she grew up in an environment of dysfunction. Her early years left her with a lack of self-esteem, a confused sense of identity, and no real understanding of her own worth. Much like the rest of her childhood, Teri’s concept of God was crippled and broken. She thought of God as distant and angry, eager to condemn her. Teri’s dread of God’s punishment, of going to hell, was so strong that it manifested itself in nightmares. To cope with the guilt and fear, she put God, “on the back burner,” and attached herself to a strong personality in a desperate attempt to survive.
Teri was left in what she says is a repeating story: caught in a cycle of codependency, Teri tried to earn her significance and self-worth by pleasing another person at her own expense. Teri married at age 18, and for the 16 years that followed she struggled in a painful, abusive marriage. These were the, “hardest years of my life,” Teri says, but without an understanding of her true value, she just, “didn’t know any better.” She had never been given the tools needed to recognize her individual identity; she was lost in a tangle of shame and disesteem. Sadly, this is the story of many women. And for some, codependency leads to addiction, which spirals into a life of crime.
This is where the beauty begins to bloom. In Deschutes County Jail, Teri looks into the eyes of such a woman- broken, used, and condemned- and she tells them about her own painful past. She tells them about her lack of self-regard, her search for significance, of finding the wrong person and serving their needs with no consideration for herself. When she first goes in, Teri is sometimes greeted with a cold stare. But the stare almost always melts to tears after Teri shares some of the realities of her story. This, Teri says, is because she has touched the heart of their hurt: no sense of self-worth. “I start bringing up the point that no-one had ever focused on my identity and my gifts and talents and me. It was all about trying to please [others], and they can just instantly identify with that,” she explains. But Teri doesn’t stop there. She describes the love of God and the power of the cross to the women she visits. She encourages them with prayer and Bible verses. She even provides a multitude of practical needs: giving rides, furnishing them with clothes and other necessities. You see, Teri is a chaplain at the adult jail, and she has been ministering to female inmates there for five years; visiting, praying for, writing to, and encouraging women inside the jail and after their release. Teri can do all of these wonderful things because she, herself, has been transformed by God’s love and truly become a new creation in Christ.
This beautiful transition certainly did not happen overnight. Teri’s earlier picture of an angry and distant God first started to change when a neighbor invited her to Bible study fellowship. After that, she says it, “didn’t take long for me to ask Jesus into my heart.” Another huge influence was a particular conversation with her son’s teacher, who told her that a person’s behavior is a reflection of their self-esteem. This, coupled with what Teri was learning in her Bible study, flipped the lightbulb on. She realized that behavior is connected to identity: “A person is going to automatically act out of what their subconscious self-image is.” With the discovery of the depth and breadth of God’s grace, and His eagerness to overlook our transgressions, Teri at last came to the realization that the first thing she had to do was just come to God. She could come boldly, without fear of punishment, but instead in eagerness to freely receive His love and forgiveness. Only then could Teri experience the growth that she desired. Teri has found that much like a plant, her leaves (behaviors) couldn’t turn green without the water of God’s love.
Though still in an abusive relationship, God was consistently at work in Teri’s heart. She says that during that confusing time, the Holy Spirit sent her scriptures. These verses talked about truly knowing Christ, and marriage as an illustration of Christ and the church. One that stood out to Teri was Matthew 5:13 that says “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” In time, God’s truth gave her the courage and the strength to finally get out, after 16 years of dysfunction and pain. Reflecting on this difficult period of her life, Teri humbly says, “this is the short life.” She sees the hard years as just a blink in time when compared to an eternity with Christ. Moreover, it’s those trials that led her to where she is today, leading Teri to declare “yes, it was very worth it.”
The tribulations that Teri walked through is what she believes brought to life her passion to help, heal, and love the women of Deschutes County Jail. “I feel like God anointed me for this,” Teri says. Though she doesn’t have a criminal background, and has never been incarcerated, Teri’s past has given her a depth of understanding. She knows their shame, their guilt, their lack of self-worth. These women have likely never experienced the kind of understanding and sympathy that Teri gives them. It is her greatest joy to explain the beauty of God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice to them. Teri uses this analogy, “a plant doesn’t turn its leaves green so it can get water; it’s the other way around. It needs to get water- which I related to God’s love- and then it will become green.” When women come to an understanding of the cross washing away all sin and blame, and that they can come boldly to God anytime and receive the water of His love, “it’s just like the light dawns,” Teri says. For Teri, the most fulfilling thing is seeing a woman start to explore her innate worth and her personhood, “it’s like a tight bud of a rose starting to unfold.”
Through her ministry as a female chaplain, Teri has had the honor of leading multiple women to the Lord. One of these women was in such despair, she was on the brink of suicide. In this dark place, she had tied her sheets together, made a slipknot, and was about to jump off a balcony inside the jail. A guard managed to stop her, and the next day Teri came in to see her. That’s when she accepted Jesus into her heart and from death’s door sprang new life. Teri loves seeing these women’s lives start to flourish; some start going to church, are reunited with their children, and get jobs and homes of their own. “It’s not the majority,” Teri says, “but whatever it is, it’s worth it.”
Teri’s dream is to someday quit her “real job” and devote all her energy to loving female prisoners. Her desire, she says, is to “stand in the gap” for these people who oftentimes have nothing; no proper clothes, no transportation, no home, and no-one to lean on. Upon being released from the jail, many women experience a kind of shock. Teri describes this using the analogy of an uprooted plant, “a plant can be rootbound and need to be moved or it will die, but when you first move it, it goes into shock, even though it’s a healthy thing for it,” she explains. “These women know what they need to do, but if they need to move, they do go into shock.” During this vulnerable time, “when they’re first repotted into the environment of Jesus,” as Teri puts it, these women need a lot of support. Some very tangible needs include jobs and housing, rides to church and appointments, and simple, practical needs like clothing and eyeglasses. Prayer, encouragement, and acceptance are equally important. Even the simple act of writing a letter can impact a woman’s life forever. Teri is grateful for Westside’s help in supporting inmates in all of these areas; the church has contributed gift cards to take women to breakfast, books addressing codependency, and Life Recovery Bibles. Westside also provides Celebrate Recovery, which includes a 12-step program that Teri considers vital for codependents.
Teri hopes that her story can help others understand who they are in Christ. Her advice? “Do not let the enemy come in and accuse you and lie to you and tell you you’re not worthy to come to God, because that’s where the cross comes in.” She points to the story of the prodigal son, who after squandering everything, was forgiven and received by his father with love and celebration. What would happen if we all came to such an understanding of God’s love? What if we put down the lies of the enemy, the accuser, and took up our true identities as God’s beloved children? “It’s good to know who you are,” Teri says, and it is her firm belief that when this happens, “we can do amazing things.” Don’t let the enemy discourage you from being all you were crafted to be; after all, God uses broken jars to shine His light.
Written By: Paige Smith || Photography: Paige Smith