Real-life Reconciliation: How One Colson Scholar Is Helping Restore Lives in Denver
A Moment of Change
“It was like Pepto-Bismol over my soul. I was at last soothed.” This is how Jenifer Reynolds describes the moment she experienced the complete forgiveness and restoration of God. Arrested for a number of serious felonies, Reynolds was bailed out before sentencing and found herself running from the law. After a trusted friend took her in, Reynolds promised to spend time in a drug and alcohol treatment center. Agreeing to go, Reynolds had no intention of changing. God planned otherwise. Reynolds details the moment of transformation this way:
I was in my room going through withdrawal and all of my senses were heightened. I could smell everything in the air—it was all so overwhelming. I just screamed at God. I yelled at him about everything I had been through and all the anger I felt. Then, it was like Pepto-Bismol over my soul….I could hear him saying, ‘Put your hands over your ears. All you can hear is me. Drop to the floor.’ I dropped to my knees and put my head on the bed and took a deep breath. I heard God say, ‘You are breathing the power and presence of me now. I will always feed you and never let you go hungry.’ Then I blacked out. When I came to, all my withdrawal symptoms were gone and all that was left was a deep ache to serve God with everything I am—to know him more intimately and truly. My life has never been the same.
A Broken Past
Reynolds grew up in a broken home—and one in which God’s presence was seemingly absent. In kindergarten, however, she found herself enraptured with the beauty of Jesus while sitting in on a Sunday School class. “Little did I know,” Reynolds sighs, “that the scripture I held on to—Psalm 139—would become all-too-true as I spent the next decades of my life walking through hell while he pursued me.”
At age 11, fleeing from an abusive home, Reynolds began living on the street. A life of drugs, alcohol, and crime ensued, with each year growing darker and more painful. This continued for nearly a decade. “I should have died,” she said. “But God.”
Fast forward nearly a decade. Reynolds was an outlaw who had just drained the bank account and stole the car of a family who had trusted her. When the family didn’t call the police, she was shocked. And when a trusted friend encouraged her to seek treatment for addiction, Reynolds begrudgingly went.
A Restored Present
In the treatment center she not only experienced complete transformation, but also a new sense of calling. “For the next eight years God sent me out to seek forgiveness from all those I had harmed. It was a very painful journey, but one in which I have experienced reconciliation with my mom, my daughter, and so many others I had hurt. God reconciled the enormous pains I caused in my relationships…and that,” she states emphatically, “is a miracle.”
During this time, Reynolds also became involved with DenverWorks, a faith-based non-profit organization which empowers job-seekers to fulfill their God-given design through employment preparation leading to self-sufficiency. As the 2nd Chance program director, Reynolds was drawn toward the idea of restorative justice—a theory of justice that emphasizes offenders, victims, and community members coming together to talk about how to repair the harm caused by criminal behavior.
Desiring to pursue this way of reconciliation, Reynolds applied for the Charles W. Colson Scholarship at Wheaton College. In December 2011, she completed the Billy Graham Center Institute for Prison Ministries Correctional Ministries Credential Program, focusing on restorative justice. “What I learned through the program was more valuable than I can put into words,” she says. “It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. The course takes students through every aspect of prison ministry and equips people to be strategic in how they work.”
A Hopeful Future
Since graduating, Reynolds has become executive director of DenverWorks. And she is dreaming big for the next two to three years. First, she plans to create a business model for DenverWorks that will provide transitional employment for people to become employment ready. “We serve almost three thousand people a year,” she explains. “And we have about a 60% success rate in finding people employment—this is really good since we work with a population that is harder to employ.” Reynolds’ hope is that the transitional employment will provide more training and experience for those needing work.
Second, Reynolds is pursuing a “shared space, one-stop” model of partnership in which community organization and government entities in Denver will have offices/services in one space to meet the many of the needs of ex-offenders—emotional, physical, occupational, relational, etc. “God works in community,” she shares. “That is the best way for us to work as well.”
With a wistful sigh, Reynolds admits to not believing she really experienced all the pain and brokenness in her past. “It seems so long ago. But even today, the more mistakes I make, the more my relationship with God intensifies,” she says. “He has been with me all the time. No matter how broken and sinful I am, he loves me. I can’t get enough of him.”
Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Reynolds knows this is her legacy, and one in which she is excited to see how her “something to share” will continue to bring healing and restoration to others.