Bridges to Life

A faith commitment can be like a stone tossed into water, sending out ripples that spread wide into God’s world.  Anne Mund has had that experience.  As an active member of St. John’s UMC-Austin, Anne has felt led to social justice ministries.  One of these, the Texas Coalition Against the Death Penalty (TDACP), works to move the criminal justice system beyond execution and mass incarceration toward more humane and rational approaches to crime prevention.  That group, in turn, introduced Anne to the restorative justice work of Bridges to Life (B2L).
At a TCADP gathering, Anne saw a documentary film about a mediation between a convicted murderer and the mother and daughter of the woman he killed.  The professional mediator in the film was a woman named Ellen Halbert.  “That documentary was so powerful.  Some time later I was on a committee to plan a TCADP quarterly meeting, and we decided to show the documentary and invite Ellen to lead the discussion afterwards.  It was held at Trinity UMC in May of 2012.  That’s when Ellen talked about Bridges to Life. “
The spiritual mission of this Houston-based non-profit group is “to minister to victims and offenders in an effort to show them the transforming power of God’s love and forgiveness.”  B2L teams go into prisons to help violent offenders come to understand their actions and leave prison better prepared for life on the outsde.  A key part of their experience is getting to know B2L volunteers who are the victims of violent crimes or the loved ones of victims.
As Anne heard about Bridges to Life, she found herself tremendously impressed. “I don’t know if I would be able to do what these people do if I were in their place,” she thought.  But she resonated with the example of those who chose to get past rage and retribution and work for healing.
Anne followed up by observing a weekly meeting that was part of a 14-week program B2L conducts in prisons.  Ellen Halbert was the speaker and told about her own experience as a victim of terrible violence; the prisoners then talked in small groups about her presentation. Anne and others from St. John’s also attended a graduation ceremony in Kyle for those who completed the program; only about 2% of those who graduate from B2L return to prison.
“Bridges to Life is always looking for more volunteers,” Anne says. The website www.bridgestolife.org provides information about this ministry and volunteer opportunities.   Ellen Halbert, who works in the Victim’s Witness program in the Travis County District Attorney’s office, speaks on the subject of restorative justice; so does another B2L volunteer, Linda White, who keeps in touch with her daughter’s killer and encourages him in his new life. For Anne Mund, the example of those who put Jesus’ teachings into practice has deepened her own faith and commitment to justice ministries.
Submitted by Linda Elford