60 Years in Prison Ministries, Mentorship, and Outreach

Adventist church member Maxine Bethea led an incredible life of faith and service.

Southern Tidings, and Adventist Review
<strong>60 Years in Prison Ministries, Mentorship, and Outreach</strong>
Maxine Bethea, a mentor and prison ministries leader who died in 2021 at 87. [Photo: Southern Tidings]

A beautiful baby girl, Maxine, was the fifth child born to Tommy and Mable Lewis in Gainesville, Florida, United States, on March 25, 1934. Maxine Bethea passed to her rest on September 16, 2021, at age 87.

As a child, Maxine attended Duval Elementary and Lincoln High School in Gainesville. There she was known as Rabbit because she was swift on her feet and very athletic. Taking part in women’s softball, basketball, and the Lincoln High School Marching Band played a pivotal role in her childhood and teen years. She used her sports abilities throughout her life as she became a well-rounded and versatile woman.

Maxine attended Bethel Seventh-day Adventist Church in Gainesville, where her mother was a founding member. She and her siblings attended church faithfully, and her mother’s father, Charles Manns, was an Adventist preacher who served the Bethel church as organist and pianist, among other responsibilities.

When Maxine was 18, her older brother Tommie invited her to leave Gainesville and move to New York. It was there that Tommie introduced her to an old Army buddy, Fentress Lunue “Lenny” Bethea. She dated Lenny, fell in love with him, and decided to be his wife; she married him that same year. They had five children, four girls and one boy. She was an excellent mother, chef, seamstress, nurturer, party planner, fundraiser, caregiver, and much, much more.

The family moved to Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1960s. Maxine joined the Mount of Olives church in Brooklyn. There she sharpened her skills as a Bible worker, community service organizer, prison ministries instructor, and Pathfinder leader. In 1965, tragedy struck the Bethea household, when Lenny suffered a fatal aneurysm. He was 32 years old when he died.

Maxine now had the responsibility of caring for her young ones all alone. She then told Jesus (and everybody else) that He would have to be her husband. With the strength of God, she dutifully carried out the training of her babies. A brave soul, Maxine raised her children to be strong, independent leaders, to be afraid of nothing and no man, and to look to Jesus for His help with everything throughout their lives.

She taught her children to trust God and always lean on His precious promises. God never fails, she said. One of her favorite things to say when faced with an enormous difficulty was, “I can’t wait until the morning!” When asked “Why?” she would say, “To see what God’s going to do!”

A woman of faith, that’s who Maxine was to her children — and with that came the blessings. She wrote a book, The Blessings of a Single Parent. That title became natural to her as the Lord seemed to remind her that she was blessed and highly favored.

Glorious Ministries

As she grew in God’s great ministry, Maxine worked for Him in prisons across America: Rikers Island in New York City; St. John’s River Prison in Richmond, Virginia; Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis, Indiana; and Alachua County Jail in Gainesville were just some of the many venues where she played a part.

Maxine also took her job as a Bible worker seriously — from the Caribbean to the Ivory Coast, West Africa; from Seattle, Washington, to Gainesville. Her other ministries included teaching and being the principal at Gold Street Adventist Elementary School in Brooklyn and Capital City School in Indianapolis.

She also worked as a women’s dean at Pine Forge Academy from 1986 to 1992. She loved PFA, and the students can attest that she was just as much fun as she was strict. Most of all, she was consistent. Maxine was also a girls’ director at Victory Lake Camp and Camp Wagner for 14 years. These schools and camps allowed her to hone her sports abilities and show off her basketball and strong right-arm throwing skills.

When Maxine turned 59, she attended Southwestern Adventist University’s Adult Degree Program and graduated in three years with two bachelor’s degrees: religion and psychology, with a minor in health-care administration. She was one determined woman.

It was then that she decided to move back to her hometown of Gainesville for her retirement years. She returned to her family’s homestead that was built by her father’s hands. It was there that she served as a member of the Gainesville Police Citizen Academy and was involved in the community.

Maxine was a local church board member; treasurer, and prison ministries director for women, working with women for the last nine years of her life. She provided marriage counseling for many couples and remained faithful in Bible study. Maxine was a true testament of a balanced, well-lived life.

Her last words to her sisters and daughters the night she passed away were, “I’ll see you in heaven,” and that was the theme for her celebration service.

Maxine is survived by her four children, eight grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.

The original version of this story was posted by Southern Tidings.

Southern Tidings, and Adventist Review