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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Mentoring Changes Destinies

By John W. Kennedy
Apr. 29, 2012

Without Christian mentors, Mel and Annie Goebel believe they would not have successfully transitioned back into society after being in prison. Now, the husband-wife team is making an investment in the lives of female inmates and released prisoners across the country through their ministry, Daughters of Destiny.

The Goebels emerged from remarkably similar backgrounds. Both grew up with an alcoholic parent and suffered physical abuse. They each left home, dropped out of school, and got involved in criminal activities.

“We got conned by the greatest con, Satan,” Mel says. “He manipulated our dysfunction and had us doing drugs.”

But the similarities in background didn’t end with life’s troubles. Both Mel and Annie accepted Jesus as Lord while in prison, then turned the corner on the outside because of caring spiritual mentors. Mel still communicates regularly with the man who helped him make that transition more than 35 years ago.

Mel had a spiritual conversion as a 23-year-old inmate at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in 1975 after being evangelized by a fellow prisoner. He spent the next year and a half of his sentence prior to being released searching the Scriptures and growing closer to Jesus as his Savior. Although Mel dropped out of school in eighth grade, he eventually earned a college communications degree.

He says it became apparent to him that successful ex-prisoners had five common elements: they are truly born again (John 3:16); they faithfully study God’s Word and pray; upon release from prison they immediately start attending church; they drop ties with former friends; and they regularly attend a Bible study.

Those who join Daughters of Destiny on the inside commit to these five values. When their sentence is finished, they are matched with women from a church who mentor them.

“It’s what made the difference in my walk,” Annie says. “I felt loved; I felt welcome. It’s very hard for a gal who comes to Christ in prison to then get out and walk into a church on her own. She is terribly afraid of being rejected.”

At 16, when her father came home drunk and again made threats to kill her, Annie fled through her bedroom window. She began living on the streets, dropped out of high school, got involved in drugs and alcohol, and spent time in juvenile homes and jail.

When her life had spiraled down to near the point of death, Annie cried out and asked the Jesus she had heard about as a little girl to be her Lord. On her way to prison in 1988 for possession of methamphetamine, Annie asked Christ to be her Savior. Upon release a year later, women from a local church became her spiritual mentors.

She obtained not only a general equivalency diploma, but also a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. She became a public high school teacher in South Dakota, and few knew of her dysfunctional past.

But one day Annie heard Mel speak in Hill City, S.D., about the new ministry he had started with his wife, Jane. Mel issued a call to women on the outside to encourage women behind bars. Annie felt apprehensive about relinquishing a good career, but she knew the Lord had called her to ministry.

“It was the defining moment of my life when I made the decision to accept this calling,” Annie says. “All the pain and ugliness of the past proved to be valuable in the kingdom of God.”

Annie took over a regional post of Mel’s new organization, Daughters of Destiny (, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. She later moved to the national office as program director.

Shortly thereafter, Mel felt lost because Jane, his wife of 30 years, had died of multiple sclerosis. Mel didn’t know how he could continue to lead the ministry as a single male.

Two years later, Mel asked Annie out on a date. The couple wed in January 2010. Mel is chief executive officer and Annie is president of the organization, which is in its eighth year.

“I never thought God would bring such a woman to me who had the same experiences,” Mel says.

The U.S. incarceration rate among females has tripled since 1985, primarily because of drug convictions. The Goebels say 90 percent of inmates suffered physical, sexual or emotional abuse as girls.

Subsequently, a cycle of low self-esteem is likely to continue unless God intervenes.

“One of our main purposes is to help women understand they must replace the lies they have always believed with the truth,” Annie says.

In their talks, the Goebels put a positive spin on being in prison. They tell women that Satan is mad that they are in the institution rather than dead, because while incarcerated they still have the opportunity to accept Jesus as Lord.

Daughters of Destiny sponsors teams of female speakers at penitentiaries explaining how Jesus helped them put their shattered lives back together. Around 20,000 women attend these evangelism events annually. Various women’s prisons are experiencing revival because inmates understand that devoting themselves to Jesus is the only way to stop the painful cycle of brokenness, Annie says.

The Goebels well understand the internal bondages that can lead to imprisonment. Scars of the past include rejection, abandonment, abuse, guilt and shame.

“Women in prison have an identity crisis until they understand they are children of God,” Mel says. “Then they understand that Jesus died for them, He loves them, and He has a future plan for them.”

“I believed the lie that I was alone and unloved and had no value,” Annie says.

Daughters of Destiny has 1,600 volunteers throughout the country. The heart of the ministry is mobilizing female churchgoers to bond with inmates who are incarcerated, and to continue discipling them when they are freed.

“God is calling Christian women who have never been in trouble off the pews to reach their sisters inside,” says Annie, 55. For volunteers uncomfortable going to a prison, Daughters of Destiny has a mail correspondence mentoring discipleship program.

Often, Mel says, the lives of church volunteers are changed as radically as the inmates, both those still incarcerated and those who have been released. To spiritually and emotionally impact the life of someone who has been behind bars can bring great fulfillment to those who haven’t done much outside the walls of the church before, he says. Many friendships blossom into lifelong relationships.

Jacquelyn Cato, a real estate broker who owns her own firm in Vacaville, Calif., has been involved with Daughters of Destiny for four years. She initially became involved in prison ministry as a child protective custody social worker, attempting to reunify women who had been incarcerated with their children.

“My motivation was attempting to keep mothers with their children, to decrease the number of children who grow up in the foster-care system,” says Cato, who has two sons. She has traveled to a dozen states with Daughters of Destiny, ministering about once a quarter, preaching from the Bible with a team in a group church setting.

Inside prison, Daughters of Destiny partners with other Bible-based ministries such as Prison Fellowship. There are 7,900 inmates who are members of Daughters of Destiny, 700 of whom will transition to society this year. Challenges they face on the outside include securing housing, finding employment, locating a church, and developing healthy relationships.

Daughters of Destiny publishes The Daughter’s Journal, a quarterly newspaper distributed in prisons in all 50 states and in many county jails. The issue always includes an article written by an inmate for current prisoners about transitioning back into society.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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