Fulton missionary takes message of hope behind prison bars

April 07, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Behind the razor wire, the metal detectors and heavy metal doors, among murderers, rapists and thieves, the 56-year-old disabled homemaker from Fulton feels safe.

As she is pushed in her wheelchair into the medium-security Maryland Correctional Institute in Jessup, Medora Rau greets her volunteer work with a Sunday school teacher's optimism.

"I'm just there as a little messenger that there is hope," she said before her weekly prison visit. "It's been my blessing to be in prison, and I have never been afraid."

Wearing a small wooden cross and a bright smile, she had a cheery greeting for corrections officers, administrators and inmates alike. Most responded in kind.

At 1 p.m., she began an afternoon of counseling and prayer with inmates.

She also conducts services, plays piano and sings her own inspirational music in a fluttering soprano some inmates have judged to be operatic.

"She's like a second mother to us. She brings so much to us," said Donald Evans, 42, who has served nearly half of his 30-year sentence and meets regularly with Mrs. Rau for one-on-one counseling.

Mrs. Rau didn't ask Evans what he was in for, and took exception to a reporter's inquiry.

Evans would only say he was "acting on emotion instead of using my head."

Mrs. Rau's unquestioning support and counsel has endeared her to many inmates.

"Some people can say things to tear you down, but she says things that build you up," Evans said.

That is as the Bible says it should be, maintains Mrs. Rau, a missionary to state prisons from the Presbyterian Church of America.

"Jesus Christ always had time for the outcasts. He was out with the lepers. He was out with the woman who committed adultery and was about to be stoned," said Mrs. Rau, who began her ministry in 1978, teaching choral music at the women's prison in Jessup.

During an inter-prison music competition in 1979, "we won first place in the gospel music competition, so the men wanted me to go over and teach them, too," she said.

A classical pianist who had taught music since she was a teen-ager, Mrs. Rau began teaching basic music at the House of Corrections that year.

She later volunteered to do counseling at the Maryland Correctional Institute next door, and has worked at several other facilities.

As God looked after the Hebrews freed from Egypt, so too does He look after prisoners, Mrs. Rau said.

"God promised them the Promised Land, but they disobeyed. Even so, He took care of them, even in the wilderness," she said.

On Tuesday nights, after a brief trip home for dinner, Mrs. Rau goes to the women's prison.

She has developed a 12-week program -- called "Preparation for Release -- God's Way!!" -- which she repeats at Jessup's Pre-Release Unit on Wednesdays.

The program teaches inmates to rely on Scripture and not on their ego, which she says stands for "Easing God Out."

Mrs. Rau's work in state prisons, which included organizing and distributing Christmas packages to MCI's 1,150 inmates, prompted state officials to recommend her for a governor's volunteer award.

Her kindness extends beyond the prison compound to include the inmates' families. This week she learned that Evans' mother, who lives in Georgia, will soon be celebrating her 75th birthday.

"Her birthday is Sunday," she said. "Well, I'll try to call her Sunday."

That kind of personal contact is a regular part of life for Mrs. Rau and her husband, Donald C. Rau, who works full time as a financial management specialist at Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt.

When Evans' wife became ill and died several years ago, the Raus attended her funeral on his behalf.

"You can always call her," Evans said. "A lot of the other men appreciate that, too."

Mrs. Rau has been through her own personal trials, and often uses those experiences as examples of faith's healing power.

At age 8, she was stricken with encephalitis. Her doctor was certain it would be fatal. It still causes her occasional seizures. Last November, she discovered she had ovarian cancer that had spread to her chest. The condition is now in remission.

Her medical problems make a short walk a painful exercise. She uses a wheelchair to get around away from home.

"In spite of all she's been through, she's done it consistently; she never gets discouraged," said Eugene M. Nuth, warden at MCI-Jessup.

Often prison ministries don't last for one of two reasons, Mr. Nuth said. "They get discouraged, or they forget this is a correctional facility and it has a high level of security that has to be maintained," he said. Some missionaries have not been allowed back because they violated prison rules by carrying letters, or even packages, for inmates, he said.

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