Free from guilt.
Free to set others free.
"... sometimes God brings us through fire in order to make us over into what He wants us to be."
In 2012, Kaye Ward Heroux asked the deacons from her church to come together in an emergency meeting. She resigned as the church clerk, and she stepped down from teaching Sunday School. She told them that she had been stealing money at work, that she could no longer carry the guilt of it, and that she planned to confess and turn herself over to the authorities the next day. Silence fell over the room.
Then, slowly, one man spoke up. “What kind of Christians would we be if we didn’t stand behind you?” he said.
Seven years and a prison sentence later, that same man ran the sound system on Sunday, May 5, 2019 as Kaye Ward Heroux was ordained as a minister in the Original Freewill Baptist Church.
When asked what freedom means to her, Kaye shared, “Freedom is not being able to do what you want to do. That is not freedom. Freedom is doing what you are put here to do.” At age 68, Kaye is doing just that. While she was incarcerated, Kaye met women she would have never met on the outside. Prison is a site of radical diversity, and as Kaye struggled with the daily pain of separation from her own children and grandchildren, she found that more and more women were drawing close to her for advice, support, and simple conversation. Meanwhile, Kaye got deeply involved in the life of the Hope Center – attending worship, Bible Studies, Duke Divinity classes, and becoming a leader in that community.
One day when she was at JobStart, a man spoke a prophecy over her. Kaye had never experienced anything like that before. Prophecy was not a part of her own religious tradition. But the man looked at her and said, “God has a calling for you, and I see God on a snow plow. He is driving the snow plow down a street and you are walking behind it.” Kaye explains, “At that time, I had not yet felt really called, and I thought that was crazy!” But as the years went on, that snow plow made more and more sense.
Slowly, Kaye’s love for the women incarcerated around her grew and grew. She felt a burden for them, and Kaye began to wonder if she was being called to prison chaplaincy. But the requirements were overwhelming. She didn’t have the education needed. She was retired, and the Freewill Baptists had only ordained three other women in North Carolina. But the burden to care for the women around her simply would not lift. Kaye explains, “I felt called to “love these women” and once I said ok, if this is what you want me to do, a weight was lifted off me. I’m not gonna get out and retire. I have something to do when I get out. It made me excited, but it also scared me to death.”
In the three years since she has been out, Kaye has received a scholarship to Mount Olive to complete her education. She was hired by Interfaith Prison Ministry for Women in a job that let her begin to fulfill her calling as she worked on her education. She was reconciled to her family and to her church. And just this month, she stood in the same pulpit where her grandfather had stood for his ordination 99 years before, and Kaye Ward became an ordained minister. Kaye shares:
“This has been the worst five years of my life and the best five years. It’s been a nightmare, and it has been a blessing. But sometimes God brings us through fire in order to make us over into what He wants us to be. Just because you are 68 years old does not meant you are through doing what you were meant to do! I’ve lived my life but I’m just beginning to do what I was meant to do. Not that it hasn’t been worth anything before now, but I experienced true freedom in that I’m doing what God meant for me to do.”
We at IPMW celebrate Kaye Ward Heroux for who she is and all she has done. We are honored to have had her as a coworker. We are inspired by her diligence in pursuing her calling no matter the obstacles, and we are grateful to live in a world in which Kaye is a recognized spiritual leader among us.