A Heart for Prisoners, Lessons Learned in Trials, and 17 Years of Service to EPM: a Q&A with Sharon Misenhimer
Earlier this year, our dear friend Sharon Misenhimer retired from Eternal Perspective Ministries. Her impact on this ministry has been far reaching.
When I started EPM in 1990, I never anticipated God would use our organization to reach so many prisoners with the gospel or help disciple believers in prison. The key to this vital part of our ministry has been Sharon. With her great heart for prisoners, for many years she has handled their correspondence and sent requested books without charge.
Earlier this year, Sharon reported that in just one week we received 375 letters and 331 orders from prisoners, to whom we shipped 498 books. We’re a small ministry, and reaching prisoners isn’t our main focus. Yet more than 30,000 inmates have contacted us! We’ve sent them over 70,000 books, a great investment because each book is typically read by many prisoners.
Heartfelt letters from inmates tell us of conversions, profound life changes, and gratitude for our help. These letters reflect the deeply personal nature of Sharon’s ministry. God has forged precious relationships with many—very few of whom we will meet in this world.
Sharon has been both a giver and a gift, not only to us but to thousands of prisoners. Our ministry to prisoners wouldn’t have existed without her faithful and diligent follow-up with people in need, who are often forgotten. (I’m grateful for our staff member Amy Woodard, who has taken over for Sharon and now oversees this ministry, as well as for our other staff involved with packaging and shipping the books!)
I hope you enjoy the following Q&A with Sharon. It will give you a glimpse into this godly woman’s heart for prisoners and her great love for the Lord. I especially appreciate what she shares about prayer and how God has grown her through trials and difficulties over the years. —Randy Alcorn
Tell us a little about your history with EPM.
I had the privilege of working at EPM for 17 years. I started as a volunteer in 2002 and became part of the staff in 2007 as a Ministry Assistant. I also managed the prison outreach part of the ministry.
How has working for EPM and with Randy affected you personally?
Working at EPM has shaped and blessed my life more than I could have ever imagined and has been one of my greatest privileges.
Randy’s writings and his and Nanci’s influence (by the way they live) changed my thinking and life in many ways. One of the main themes in his writings that has deeply influenced me is living our lives in light of eternity by investing in things that will last forever. Randy reminds us that this life and the opportunity we have is temporary and very brief, and I love his “Live for the Line, Not the Dot” video that powerfully illustrates this message.
What would you like people to know about EPM’s book ministry to prisoners?
Even before I started working at EPM, prisoners were writing to Randy and requesting his books. I’m thankful God gave me a genuine love for the inmates that I’ve served and prayed for over the years; it became the part of my job that I loved the most.
How can others get involved in helping EPM reach inmates for Christ?
If you would like to be a part of this ministry, you might want to consider donating to EPM’s Books for Prisoners Project. These funds will help with the cost of sending out Randy’s books. Another way you can significantly impact their lives is to pray God will use these books to either introduce prisoners to the Savior or draw the believers into a closer walk with Him.
For several years, you prepared a weekly prayer sheet for our staff with requests from around the world. What does prayer mean to you, and how has God grown you in this area over the years?
Prayer is such a great and awesome privilege because we can talk to Almighty God! It’s a vital part of my having a personal relationship with Him. He is a personal God who cares for me and delights in me bringing my hardships, cares, requests, confessions, and joys to Him, as well as my gratitude and worship.
God began working significantly in my life in the area of prayer six weeks after Joe and I were married, when he was deployed to Vietnam. I had never prayed so much in my life. Years later we weren’t able to have children and that is when a long 10-year journey began of infertility, miscarriage, failed medical interventions, and adoption attempts, which brought about a lot of discouragement and persistent prayers. God answered and gave us our own child and a second one after seven more years of infertility. Later in life, the devastation of a prodigal child also had us on our knees, desperate and crying out to God.
Trials are very difficult and painful to go through. But looking back, Joe and I are so grateful for God’s wisdom in allowing trials in our lives to change us. They developed in us a stronger prayer life as well as a deeper trust and dependence on Him. I can honestly say my greatest trials have brought about some of the greatest blessings in my life, and I’m thankful for how God used them to change me. I would not want to be who I was prior to these trials. As we depended on Him in the deep valleys of hardships, we discovered the rich treasures of God’s love, comfort, grace, and intimacy, and experienced His transforming work in our lives.
A couple of meaningful verses during those years were 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (NKJV). Through these verses and many others, God helped us to see that He was using our trials for our good and that they were not meaningless. God’s Word helped us to persevere and gave us the strength to keep our eyes on Jesus and on what mattered for eternity.
Now that you’re retired, what will you be doing with your time?
Joe and I are really looking forward to spending more time with our kids and grandkids. We also look forward to doing some camping and traveling.
I remember reading John Piper’s book Rethinking Retirement years ago, about living out our retirement years for a greater purpose than what most people dream of. Even though I’m retiring from my work at EPM, God still has work He wants me to do. My prayer is that He would show me how He wants to use me to love and serve others.