Jail ministry results in Bible study series
BAGLEY, Minn. -- Leota Dahl didn't grow up in a Christian home, but her acceptance of Jesus as her savior when she was a 10-year-old has led to a wide-reaching ministry beyond her expectations.
Now, she has compiled a series of Bible studies titled "Beyond These Walls: A Ministry to Those Imprisoned within Themselves." She developed the book from study sessions she used for inmates in the Clearwater County Jail, where she visits each week.
In 1999, Dahl retired from teaching reading and math to second-graders at Bagley Elementary School. She was part of a group of people who had established a Christian lending library in Bagley. A former inmate of the Clearwater County Jail asked Dahl to bring some of the reading material to other inmates.
When she delivered the books, Dahl said the jail supervisor asked her to make herself available to talk with women in the jail. Dahl said she went home to pray about the request.
"When I talked to the Lord about it, he said, 'Yes, and I also want you to do a Bible study there,'" Dahl recalled. "He said, 'I'll give you the title every week, and you take it from there. Build on it.'"
As a result, Dahl said she developed sets of notes on the themes inspired through two years of God-given titles. General contents include studies about salvation, "A New Walk," deliverance, choices and resources. Each lesson features sets of Bible readings and discussion questions along with a section for notes.
About three years ago, she said the message came from God that she should organize her notes into a book. She went online and found the Bloomington, Ill., publisher AuthorHouse .com which welcomed the submission. Dahl put a price of $14 on the 218-page soft-cover book to make it affordable.
Although she originally developed the series and still uses it for her jail ministry, she said the book is suitable for individual devotions, family Bible study, use by seniors groups, people in shelters and teen outreach.
Dahl recommends using the study according to the themes that fill a person's particular needs at various times rather than starting in the first chapter and marching through in order. She said that is how she handles her jail ministry.
"I always prayed, 'Lord, you know what their needs are. I don't,'" she said. "There's a whole world of people who need to know the love of Jesus."
A blessing, Dahl said, she has received from her outreach is hearing from former inmates who have changed their lives and taken new, healthy paths.
She said she prays with inmates who ask her and tells them, "I'm going to pray that righteous judgment will be done on the day in court. Do you agree with that?"
Dahl described her conversion as a young girl at a camp run by a couple affiliated with Oak Hills Christian College, located just outside Bemidji, Minn.
"That was the first time I heard about Jesus Christ being my savior," she said.
She went home and asked her father for a Bible. When he denied her request, she signed up to sell Cloverine salve, which gave prizes for making sales quotas.
"I went to Bagley and knocked on doors and sold Cloverine salve and got my first Bible," she said.
To pass on the good news, Dahl said she now gives Bibles to inmates in jail.
Molly Miron is a reporter at The Pioneer of Bemidji, Minn., which is owned by Forum Communications Co.