November 13, 2008

The Most Unlikely Place

It was a Tuesday evening, just like any other. One where you’d expect this ordinary suburban mom to be out doing any number of things like shuttling kids, attending a church or school meeting, going to book club or socializing with friends.

Instead I chose to be here.

The spirit of God was alive in this place. I sat on my cheap plastic chair and soaked it in. It was here I saw Jesus clearer than ever, without clutter and distraction. It was here I felt His love. Understood His forgiveness. Marveled at His grace.

I gazed at the sea of faces, not a single one of which looked like me, as they sang and clapped with joy, shouted “Amen,” and lifted praise to the Lord. I felt I could reach out and touch the truth of Jesus and what He’s given us. The sermon was delivered with passion and conviction—and seemed aimed right at my heart. A few came forward to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation. We all gathered around to lay hands on these new members of God’s family, ending the evening in prayer that shook the rafters of heaven.

This familiar scene could have taken place in almost any church on any given evening. But we weren’t in church.

We were in prison.

And not a “country club” prison, but an urban, maximum security men’s correctional facility. The real deal. Of the 60 or so faces at worship that night, four belonged to our ministry. I was the only female. The rest were inmates. Many of them did truly awful things to earn their way in here. Some will never get out.

Of all the places I could choose to be on a weeknight, how did I find myself here?

Because God said, “Go.”

About six months ago, our couples’ Bible study searched for an outreach project. The typical ideas were tossed around, most having to do with food, women and children. Nothing seemed to fit right. Who are the most overlooked in our society? We searched our minds.

Breaking the silence, someone (who happened to be my husband) spoke up, “How about prison?”

We let his words sink in as we tried to make sense of this outrageous suggestion. Strangely, it felt right. We excitedly planned our next steps. Within a day, one of our friends “happened upon” someone who put us in contact with a nearby prison ministry. A few weeks later the two men who run the ministry—who are the ministry—came and spoke to us.

These guys were so filled with God’s purpose and Spirit; we listened to their stories, transfixed. By the end of the night, we were hooked.

A year’s passed since that meeting. Some in our group have moved on to other things, but a core remains. We’re still figuring out our place and our purpose among those inmates. But God keeps drawing us back. His hand gently nudges.

Being in prison reveals a startlingly simple picture of grace. One we may not want to accept: Jesus died for those prisoners as much as he died for you and me. Our God is one and the same.

On Tuesday after the worship service concluded, guards escorted the four of us out. We chatted amiably as we walked through the prison hallways. And do you know what one of the guards spoke about the entire time? How much she loved Jesus. Isn’t it amazing that even inside a maximum security prison, surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers, God’s love can still get in?

Once on the outside, the four of us rehashed the evening. As we stood in the parking lot, underneath the interstate, we held hands and prayed. Amid the scattered garbage, roar of cars overhead and prison looming in the background, we praised God for showing Himself to us through this experience.

Even here, in this most unlikely place, Jesus lives.
“I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:36)


Cheryl Barker said...

Kelli, thanks for sharing this. It is in these unlikely places that many times God blesses us the most. May God use your group in mighty ways there in the prison.

I love how you said, "God's love still gets in". That's a message of hope for us all, whatever our circumstances are or ever will be. Praise Him!

Sue J. said...

Wow....great piece. Great message! And way to answer the call your received--not everyone would.

JerryLyn said...

Kelli, this post really hit down to my core. Thank you for sharing it. I love that God calls us to move from our comfortable, warm, safe places and go out into the world. What an awesome way your group has chosen to follow God's call to bring Him glory!

Scott B said...

How many times have I walked in a strange neighborhood, shifted my wallet to a more secure pocket and repeatedly looked around for signs of danger? Then how can I spend an hour or two in a prison with 75 or more inmates, one guard (sometimes not even in the room with us) and feel perfectly safe? It must be God's presence.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will feel no evil, for you are with me."


Peggy said...

Again you have truly enlightened me. I have wondered what your prison ministry was like and if you were still doing it.
I'm so happy to see that you are all being so richly blessed by God for going into a place most people try to avoid.
This chapter need to go further, Proverbs 31, and maybe God will show others the grace He has for all His children.
Way to go girlfriend.
Blessings and Love...Peggy

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear the core group has continued with the prison ministry.

Hope to see you on Sunday. Although the "Texan" is doing a great job hosting Wed.evening, Constance and I do miss the Friday night group.

Doug Esp.

Julie Gillies said...

Isn't it amazing how God is able to place us right where He wants us, and grant grace to go where we've never conisdered going?

My daughter is currently making Christmas cards for a local prison ministry. She really enjoys making 25 unique cards. We buy cookies and make cards to donate every year for those in prison.

I pray your core group prospers and you bear much good fruit as you continue visiting the prison.

Lori said...

Oh how we can be like a maximum security prison! We at times can lock our hearts and our minds to what God would have us do with barbed wire and protect ourselves with armed towers. Thank you God that you never give up, and your love "still gets in!" Praise God!!