OTR – Catherine Rohr

**UPDATE**(Sept. 2012) Rohr is currently the CEO of Defy Ventures and is no longer with Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

**UPDATE**(Nov. 2009) Click here to see updated posts about Catherine.

Catherine Rohr gave up a six figure job on Wall Street to pour her life into convicts. There’s a story you don’t hear about everyday. She founded Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) and now she is being the Church to a group of people that often get overlooked by society as a whole. If you’re with us June 20/21 at Central, we’ll be showing her interview at last year’s Willow Creek Leadership Summit. She has a unique story and a challenging example of what the Church in action can look like.

“Since inception, PEP has pioneered unprecedented growth and garnered national media attention. With an aggressive vision we are pressing on to further our innovative programs and staggering outcomes. However, recidivism rates are not the ultimate measure of PEP success. The real success comes from turning a tax consumer into a tax payer, a deadbeat dad into a supportive father, a societal terrorist into a community contributor, an influence of evil into a positive role model, a waste of talent into a man of realized potential. You can’t argue with those results.”

Reminds me of 2 Corinthians 5:16-19.

Jeremy: Tell us something odd/unique about you.

Catherine: I would guess that being a 32-year-old woman who loves prison is pretty unique! Also, I love contact sports. I was the only female on the wrestling team in high school, and I currently compete in Brazilian Jujitsu and submission grappling tournaments—nearly every month. I’ve always been on the aggressive side so this sport is a good fit for me!

Jeremy: Do you think people are born leaders or develop into leaders?

Catherine: That’s a great question, and I’ve been asking this lately in my personal development as a leader. In the nature versus nurture debate, I can argue both sides, but I believe it’s the combination of the two forces that shape most leaders. I think some people are born with strengths of personality that predispose them to be leaders, but without proper nurturing, discipline, and role modeling, that strong will could actually become an obstacle to becoming an effective leader. I believe that God uses circumstances, opportunities, mistakes and other people to influence, shape and mold us into leaders. The fun part is that leadership is not a goal you can reach, it’s a constant learning process that brings us closer to our own potential and closer to the person God wants us to be.

Jeremy: How can people put themselves into a position to influence culture?

Catherine: I don’t know that anyone who sets out on a path and says, “I am going to influence our culture,” will be successful in influencing much of anything … To me, I think it’s most important to first seek what God is calling you to do—the key word there is “do.” Instead of thinking up fancy ideas on how to change the way everyone views the world, go and do something that will lead to your desired outcomes. Then use your results as a testimony to get buy-in from others who are respected in that circle of influence. It’s hard to argue with results and before long, you’ll have a network of respected voices who will add credibility to your efforts. I could run around the country telling everyone that felons are entrepreneurial and that people should invest in educating them and hiring them, but without results, that’s just a hypothesis. Our organization has created results that people can invest in and that are hard to argue with, and I would like to believe that we have influenced people from all walks of life: politicians, academics, business leaders, incarcerated people, families of the incarcerated, etc. The goal started with equipping those in prison, and eventually led to an opportunity to be an advocate … not the other way around.

Catherine RohrJeremy: Why are you a follower of Jesus Christ?

Catherine: Because I tried things my way, and it didn’t work! I realized that His ways are better than mine, and I started to actively submit my life to Him. As a trained wrestler, you can image that submission wasn’t something that came easily for me, and it continues to be an area of focus for my spiritual growth. I have learned that when I do follow Him with all my heart, there is no better way. Jesus knows best.

Jeremy: What do you do personally to fuel your spiritual life?

Catherine: For me, an active spiritual life is all about discipline. It is so easy for the busyness of life to squeeze all the peace out of my life so I require strict accountability plans to ensure that I am prioritizing my “God time” each day. My quiet time is so important for allowing me to create a space I can enter into with God. That time keeps me grounded, focused and peaceful. I am not generally a person who can sit still or stay quiet for very long so you can imagine why accountability to maintain my “God appointments” is so important to me. It’s kind of like getting ready to do a long cardio workout … I always dread it beforehand, but it feels so great after it’s over (and even during it)! It’s a constant struggle for me to remain disciplined, so I put all the controls in place needed to keep me on track! I’ll get specific on accountability. Basically, I tell people what my plans are and make serious commitments to people who I admire. I have different people who hold me accountable for different things. I email this one guy every day after I do my God time. I would hate to disappoint him. If he doesn’t hear from me for a day, he emails me to find out what’s up. Sometimes, if a goal is particularly hard to reach, I put my money where my mouth is. I tell someone that if I don’t do such-and-such a thing by a certain date, that I owe them money—an amount that would be really painful to lose. I hate to lose, so I pretty much always achieve my goals. I also believe that fellowshipping with other believers and keeping a journal of God’s goodness and miracles is very important. I express myself in a raw way in my journals—I tell God how frustrated I am, when I’m not trusting him, how I messed up, the lessons I learned … whatever is on my heart. My journal helps me to analyze my thoughts and actions so I can try hard to get them in line with what God wants for me.

Jeremy: What is your hope for the future of the Church in America?

Catherine: My hope is that the church becomes Jesus to the world. Rather than just talking about and praising Jesus (which are both still important), I hope the church is able to also focus on doing the work of Jesus. It is amazing that there are so many homeless and hungry people even in the United States where we have so many resources. I just feel there are so many issues that churches and church members should tackle, and we don’t. We wait for the government or someone else to help … even when we feel the urge to act. The church should be the brightest light for hope and church people should be known for their efforts to be Jesus to their communities and world. My hope is that there would be a call to action for the church. That the church would be recognized not by the number of butts in the pews on Sunday morning, but for their service to their communities—results that draw unbelievers to Jesus. After giving a speech about PEP, sometimes people come up to me and say, “That’s a really nice program.” I say, “Thanks! Want to get involved?” Some of them say, “Oh, no, but I’m glad someone is doing it.” I’m not saying that prison ministry has to be everyone’s calling. But this sums up the opportunity for the Church: turn spectators into doers. Let’s get our hands dirty and just do something! We shouldn’t make spectators comfortable.

Jeremy: Should we abandon the use of the word “Christian” for a better term? If so, what?

Catherine: I don’t think we’ll ever be able to get away from the term “Christian,” but it’s time that people who call themselves Christians start redeeming that word for us all. There are so many negative connotations that are associated with Christians … too political, too judgmental, too closed-minded … it’s unfortunate that people have stopped associating Christians as being followers of Christ. When people ask me about my faith, instead of saying, “I’m a Christian,” I say, “I try to follow the ways of Jesus.” I don’t think that we can ever abandon the term Christian, but hopefully, those of us who follow the ways of Jesus can use our actions to draw people to Christ and to change the connotations of what it means to be Christian.

Jeremy: What blogs/websites do you regularly check?

Catherine: Wow, a question that totally outs me. I am not hip enough to be found on any interesting sites or blogs on a regular basis. I am just not involved in the social networking space, and I don’t even really know what Twitter is! Did I just lose cool points?

Jeremy: Which books have shaped your thinking?

Catherine: Here are some of my favorites. Most of these are from my first year in my walk with Jesus.

  • The Wisdom of the Enneagram (Riso and Hudson) – helped me understand myself and how to work towards addressing my flaws and weaknesses.
  • Money, Possessions and Eternity (Randy Alcorn) – emphasized an eternal perspective and an investment mindset of how to live life on earth.
  • Purpose Driven Life (Rick Warren) – helped me realize it’s not about me, motivated me to find a way to give back.
  • Halftime (Bob Buford) – the book is probably targeted to 40-year-old business men, telling them about turning success into significance, but I felt it really applied to me at the age of 25.
  • Visioneering (Andy Stanley) – inspired me through the story of Nehemiah as I shaped the vision for PEP.
  • Too Busy Not to Pray (Bill Hybels) – taught me how to develop an intimate prayer life and relationship with God.
  • The Good News about Injustice (Gary Haugen) – shocked my soul and opened my eyes to the world being much bigger than me, put a moral imperative on my heart to take action to address injustice.
  • The Bible (God & his friends) – does that count?
  • Good to Great (Jim Collins) – taught me how to build a strategic organization.
  • Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. – inspired me to go and do it at a young age just as he did.
  • Mother Theresa books – taught me the importance of serving God by serving others. Full of wisdom.
  • David Hazard’s devotional books – my favorite is You Set My Spirit Free/John of the Cross – a compilation of devotionals that helped me learn and grow.

Jeremy: What music moves you?

Catherine: Anything with a good beat! I have a preference for techno and hip-hop music … particularly music written by PEP graduates. You should hear me drop the beat and rap!

Jeremy: Any other thoughts or advice?

Catherine: Good questions!

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Founder of Communion Wine Co. https://linktr.ee/JeremyJernigan