Up until the age of 21, Cheri questioned the purpose of life. “What’s the point?” she wondered. Her life’s circumstances, including friends and the choices she made, covered her with a suffocating blanket of darkness. An invite from her sister brought Cheri to an evangelical crusade downtown. There she heard about Jesus and the love He has for her. For the first time, she understood that God created her for a plan and purpose and that everything on this earth was here for a reason, including her. She went forward and accepted Christ as her Lord and Savior and immediate relief was given to her as the blanket of darkness was removed. Joy and happiness replaced the sorrow, and the desires of the world were taken away.

The drive home late that warm September night was quiet as Cheri reflected on what took place earlier that evening. Just then, Cheri glanced over out the passenger window and saw the grass and trees shimmering in the moonlight as if they were covered with crystals. The entire field was sparkling. Cheri quickly asked her sister and friend if they could see it and they didn’t understand. They couldn’t see what Cheri was witnessing. Cheri then knew that was God. God spoke and showed her that this was His new world given to her and to live for Him.

“I have never turned back,” Cheri confessed ardently, “and considering everything that has happened in my life since, I always knew and know today that He works all things for His good.”

Cheri looks back on that night with gratitude. It has been God’s faithfulness and truth that has gotten her through much heartache and brokenness. Darkness could have taken over Cheri’s world again. Abandoned by her husband and the struggles of being a single mom to five young children put darkness at her front door, knocking ever so quietly but persistently. The loss of her earthly father or the loss of friend after friend could have sent her right back into darkness.

“Being a Christian, I know through the hard times I had Jesus to hang on to,” Cheri said with love and strength. “I look back and I know it was God. I thank Him all the time. He provided. I would come home from work to the kid’s and I two-bedroom apartment and there would be boxes of groceries. In the mailbox there would be money from people who sent it to help. God was so faithful. He continued to provide. For my kids, God would place a teacher or coach in their school who ended up being Christian. Life was hard, but I felt His provision like He promised. And that’s where my heart breaks. It breaks for the people who don’t know Christ. Life is tough. We have Jesus to rely on, but unbelievers do not.”

In 2008, Cheri met a man who helped bring people from prisons to their church on Friday nights. Having been in prison and later coming to know Christ, he had a heart for these people. After connecting with this man and the pastor and wife who were leading this, Cheri started to serve in the prison ministry. A few years later, Cheri married the man and just a couple years after that, her now husband was convicted of a crime which put in back into prison for five years. God’s faithfulness was revealed again in and through this prison ministry. By serving others in this prison ministry, it was as if light was being poured over her, continuing to provide protection from the darkness.

“I continued this prison ministry by myself, and God exploded the ministry,” Cheri shared. “That’s when God’s ministry Bridgeway started. A few of us were bringing men and women to church in rented vans. After that we got a bus. We would take these men and women to church. Once they were paroled, we noticed that we lost them to the world. God showed me that we needed to house them. God started then to bless me with houses and friends who own rental properties. These men on parole would lease houses from me. The men would go to church and sponsors would disciple them.”

Cheri learned very quickly that when men and women got out of the prison system, there is a great deal of loneliness and fear. The correctional facility gives them $100 and sends them out with nothing. Most have families who have rejected them, their friends aren’t around, and they come out alone lacking resources and support. It’s nearly impossible to get a job and to find a place to live.

“I attend the parole hearings to support and testify for them,” Cheri said with confidence. “To get food, clothes, set them up in a house. To help them find a job, learn to do a budget, get all their IDs and paperwork, get them a bible and discipled, and get them back into society. Nationally, the recidivism rate is 76%. I want that to change. I want to bring the Good News of Jesus in these dark places. The need to get out of the dark prison for good and into the light and love in the church.”

Corrections give the men and women programming to help them better themselves, which is good. Cheri has seen and knows firsthand this isn’t and will never be enough. If the men on parole don’t have Jesus and know that they are loved, that they can be forgiven by repentance of sins, and that God has created them for a plan and purpose, they won’t make it out in the world.

“All the best programming, best jobs, best classes won’t fix them,” Cheri offered. “If they don’t know they can be forgiven by a Holy God, they can’t move forward. I heard a great analogy awhile back. It’s like that children’s toy where the circle block goes into the circle hole. We are created in the image of God and the shape of Jesus is our heart. We try to fill that hole with blocks that are bad relationships, drugs, etc. Those blocks will never fill that hole in our heart because it is in the shape of Jesus. We will never have that complete peace, fullness, and joy in our life. Those men have so much shame, guilt, condemnation, rejection when they come out of prison. Jesus says my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. He tells us to give it to Him. Once they see that, only then they can move forward and see what God is writing in and through their life. His story.”

The past few years, she and the other sponsors would bring the men from prison to a church for Sunday services and back again on Thursday evenings for a discipleship group. The environment at the church, along with its members and leaders, became unhealthy for the men. So, she began to pray. She fasted and asked God for help. She knew the ministry could not stay there.

“It was kind of like what we studied out of Genesis 36:15 where Joseph went down to find his brothers and a man appeared to him and said go that way,” Cheri said with tears. “It was a morning service at our other church that two men walked in. Two men I had never seen before and they sat down right in front of me. It was Ron and Bryant from Citylight. After the service, Ron turned around to me and said we are looking for Cheri. He said that they wanted to hear about this prison ministry. After hearing about it they wanted to get involved. They went through all the classes required by corrections to remove men from prison. After, Ron said we needed to go. Just like in the story of Genesis. Ron said go that way and God brought us to Citylight Omaha. I wanted so much more for the men. I want discipleship, to grow and have support and love around them and acceptance...and they have found it here at Citylight.”

Since this summer, Ron and Cheri and the other sponsors have driven vans provided by Citylight to go pick up the men and bring them to church at the West location. At first, some of them were asking why out here? But now, after experiencing community, acceptance and hearing the Gospel, they understand.

“Coming out to the West location with the tattoos and ankle bracelets...they were like “why do I come out here?” Cheri reminisced. “Now, they feel the love and the acceptance. There are people connecting with them with open arms. People who are loving on them and they now have the opportunity for discipleship. Men who want to come alongside them. There are City Groups stepping in offering tangible support. It’s been amazing. I feel the love here, the acceptance and no judgement. The Thursday night group now called the Overcomers meets at Citylight Midtown.”

Now, in a healthy church with support, Cheri continues to give thanks for where God has brought them from and where He leads them. When the men begin to ask “what is going to happen to me?” They have truth and support to answer that question. Truth that says we walk by faith and not by sight, there is light that pierces the darkness abundantly, a church family that loves them, and a God that will never leave them nor forsake them.

“That is where I try to move the men toward when they wonder how they will ever live, if they will see their families, or their children,” Cheri said with conviction. “I bring them to God’s promises and His Word. God is not a God who lies. Everything in the Word is true and that we can stand on His promises. God created each one of us for a mighty plan and purpose.”

When the men press into Jesus and walk with Him, Cheri has seen great success internally and externally in the men. Bridgeway Ministries has a 94% graduation rate revealing a successful re-entry with many of the men still living an active Christ-centered life. Since they are faith based, they receive no grants, funding, and no government money. Cheri refuses to remove Jesus. That is why Bridgeway has been so successful. The requirement from the men is that they are open to the Gospel, attend church on Sunday, attend Overcomers on Thursday night, and hold a job. The guys then get their own bedroom, space, and furniture in the bedroom.

With this new life, Cheri has noticed that the men find favor in their jobs and with their families. There are many success stories. One man was in prison for 22 years for a crime he did not do. At the time he was married but soon after entering incarceration his wife left him. When he was released on parole, he got involved with the Overcomers group and church and became a totally changed man. Reconnecting with his ex-wife later, he led her to Christ, and they remarried soon after. Now, living a married life dedicated to the Lord, he praises God for being sent to prison so that he could come to faith in God and be saved and kept alive.

Another story is of a man who was in and out of prison for 37 years. After attending the Overcomers group and church, got saved by Jesus, found favor by a man who gave him a job. Today he is a supervisor and a leader. There are others and each one depicting a life choosing light and walking away from darkness.

For Cheri, her dream is to be on the path God wants her and to continue with Bridgeway. She has a heart and compassion for all the men. Even the horrific things in their past, she sees them through the eyes of Jesus. Cheri also hopes for more mentors and sponsors who have a heart for these men.

“My prayer is for God to bring those who have a heart for these guys,” Cheri shared. “To not just check off the list of doing prison ministry. My prayer is also to be able to house more of them because there is such a need. And for more homes. A lot of apartments won’t rent to them, and they have no family to go to. These houses are God’s houses. He is running them. I pray that God draws these guys close to Him, that these men would pursue after God, to expose any sin or darkness in these houses.”

Cheri knows firsthand that through your deepest pain, comes an amazing purpose. Bridgeway and the Overcomer Ministries have been a gift to Cheri from God. Both have given her great purpose and over the past fifteen years, to countless men and their families. God is faithful. He freed Cheri from the darkness, and those who call Jesus their Savior. He replaced their darkness with a whole new world. For some, like Cheri, a world that included a field of shimmering light.

For more information on Bridgeway Ministries or to contact Cheri, please visit bridgewaynebraska.org.

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