"We are in the business of bringing people to Christ and showing how they are treasured."
-- Nicki Benz
JACKSON, Miss (BP) -- A tear slid down Nicki Benz's cheek as she stared at the television screen. She struggled to watch the news report that focused on imprisoned women. She figured that most of them had probably been physically and verbally abused at some point in their lives. A guard yelled at one of the women, asking why she couldn't get her life on track.
"They are not trash," Benz said back to the television. "Those women are treasures."
Someone had to take action, Benz thought. This wasn't a report from a distant location. It was happening in her hometown of Jackson, Miss. She bowed her head and prayed for God to send someone. She hadn't yet realized that God would choose to use her, a "senior citizen," to show hundreds of women and children that they are treasures in His eyes.
Now 15 years later, Benz's prison and after-care ministry, Buried Treasures Home, continues to impact lives. Last October, the White House presented her with a Point of Light Award. The award honors individuals who strive to improve their community by responding to a need through volunteer service.
"I just stand here and weep," said the 71-year-old Benz, a member of First Baptist Church of Jackson, as she spoke about the award. "I've done nothing great. I just did what God called me to do … visit the prison to tell the women that they are treasured by God."
What started out as a one-time visit to the local correctional facility in 1999 turned into a daily routine of doling out hugs, lending a listening ear and teaching about God's forgiveness and love. Benz's passion for the women was so contagious that it didn't take long for her husband Dick to join in on the visits.
Soon, an officer asked the couple if they'd consider taking in one of the girls. The woman had been in and out of 40 rehab centers and didn't have anywhere to turn. The Benzes had heard this type of story over and over. When the women left prison, they most often returned to the broken lifestyle that landed them there in the first place. The couple knew this cycle had to be broken, so they offered their four empty bedrooms to God and began an after-care ministry.
"That first woman didn't stay long, just two weeks. Then she was back on the street and landed in jail again," Dick remembered, adding that she returned five years later and completed their ministry program.
"We learned right off the bat that this ministry is hard and doesn't always work. We try to remember that it is up to the women to change their lives. God just called us to be here."
The after-care ministry focuses on discipleship and learning what it means to be treasured. Because so many women have no place to go after being released, Buried Treasures Home gives women and their children a place to live for up to a year. During that time, women receive opportunities to earn their GEDs, enroll at nearby community college, study the Bible and reintegrate into society. Read More