April 2, 2009

We are the Body

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
(1 Corin. 12:27)

I stood at the podium holding the microphone and took a deep breath. As I looked out on the sea of expectant faces, the butterflies gathered. How in the world did I get here? When I started to speak, I sensed the guys in the audience were listening and connecting. And when I prayed, the words that came weren't my own. The Spirit of God moved in this place.

When you do the math, this scene doesn’t add up. On the one hand you have me—a white, college-educated, 40ish, suburban mom whose biggest brush with the law was a few speeding tickets. I have no history of addiction or violence and I have no “street cred” whatsoever. On the other hand you have a room full of men, mostly African American and Hispanic, many covered in tattoos, who’ve lived lives where drugs, violence, broken homes and gangs are a daily reality. And they’re all living—at least for now—behind bars, doing their time or awaiting court dates.

Yet despite the absolute incongruity of our lives, oddly it makes sense. I think my Woodside friends who joined me on this venture into prison ministry feel the same. Somehow it works. And there is absolutely no doubt God is at the center of it.

Because even though the inmates and I are from different worlds, we are the body of Christ. The connection we have through Jesus knits us together in a way that defies logic. And as strange as it sounds, I feel like the inmates accept me and that I have a purpose there.

But this isn’t what I wanted. Honestly, I wanted a “girlfriend” ministry. I wanted to connect with moms, wives and sisters with wit and wisdom. I wanted to be everyone’s best friend. I see women who do this so well and I admire it tremendously, covet it even. Yet, as much as I desire it, it’s just not who I am.

Besides, God has other plans—plans that involve the prison. He wants me to learn from these men, to worship with them, pray with them and love them. He wants to grow me in this place and lead me to a deeper understanding of grace.

But I never planned to get actively involved. I just wanted to attend the worship services as a quiet supporter. To speak in front of a group, lead prayer or do anything that involved holding a microphone were WAY off the map of my comfort zone. They’re just not things I do. Period.

Once again, God had other plans and through the urging of those on our ministry team, I’ve found myself on several occasions standing behind the podium, knees knocking, talking to or praying with the men. And I have to say, as scary as the experience is, it’s exhilarating—not because I enjoy it, but because I see the Spirit at work. Despite my shortcomings, God has proven He doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

There have been some special things happening during our worship services lately. The inmates are really participating and receiving. Lots of guys have been getting saved.

This week something really cool happened. Usually the most enthusiastic men arrive and fill up the first two rows, leaving the back rows for late comers and those just passing the time. Often there’s foolishness in the back that’s distracting to the service. This week, on their own, the “regulars” started filling the back rows first, leaving the front rows open. As the room filled up, one of the inmates even directed latecomers to open seats.

This seemingly small gesture spoke volumes about the inmates’ respect for us and most especially their respect for worship. They are serious about Jesus! Just looking at their faces, hardened by life but softened by grace is a living testimony to a God who loves us unconditionally. A God who lifts us out of the muck and the mire and sets us on the rock. Who puts a new song in our mouth. (Psalm 40)

As believers, we are the body of Christ connected to one another all the way back to Abraham. At first glance we may have little in common, but when we strip away our differences and realize we share the same heart for Jesus, we find that’s all that really matters. And what unites us is infinitely greater than what divides us.
“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be…
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corin. 12:17-19, 26)


Cheryl Barker said...

Good for you, Kelli, to be willing to go way off your comfort zone map. In your weakness, He is showing Himself strong, isn't He? We just need to learn to keep our eyes on Him. Like Peter, if I take my eyes off Him, I can begin to sink pretty fast. Keep looking to Him!

Donna Teti said...


Reminding us that we are all one body is such a beautiful message.
I also like Cheryl's reminder to keep our eyes on Jesus. So true how when I step away I find my self sinking as well...great analogy of St.Peter. I will hold both your messages close to my heart today
Thank you

Donna Teti

Dan said...

Kel - your spirit - God's spirit, since I know you won't take credit for it - is amazing. And, so are th inmates at "CFCF." We learn from them every time we go in. Keep going, keep praying, keep trusting!

JerryLyn said...

Kelli, I'm so moved and inspired by the Holy Spirit in you. God is using you in so many ways--through the prison ministry and through your honest messages that reach deeply to my soul. I also loved how you say that the prisoners participated and RECEIVED. How Great is Our God. And I know Him much more deeply through knowing you. Have a great day!

Peggy said...

You are a great role model for all those who need to learn to trust in what God tells them to do and what path to take. May we all find the courage and strength that you have in your walk with our Saviour.
Thanks for you encouraging words, and great faith.
Blessings and Love....Peggy

Sassy Granny ... said...

"Once again, God had other plans ..."

How well I relate! I seem to live on the other side of MY plans, and often find that HIS plans were what I really wanted (though some have taken me awhile to adjust to).

Beautiful story, and equally beautiful reminder. I'm thinking it's the antidote to all things lukewarm. Thank you!


elaine @ peace for the journey said...

God takes our witness to some unusual places, and yet, when it happens it seems so right and a perfect fit for the moment. Funny thing, you talked about a girlfriend ministry. That's never been my niche or my deepest desire. Still and yet, God continues to shape that vision over time. The more I move forward in faith, the more readily he's able to put me where he wants me.

Sometimes, in the places I least expected.

Have a great weekend~elaine

Melanie said...

Thanks for sharing this! Very inspiring.

Saleslady371 said...

This sounds like a very rewarding ministry that God has hand picked you for. Thank you for being obedient. I'm curious as to what you shared with the inmates over that mic. I'm so glad you're there for them.

Scott B said...

Who knew? When we started this 17 months ago (give or take) I had no idea this would become such a part of our Friday night couples group. What began as almost a field trip (and I don't mean that in a negative way) has become so much more.

I'm so bummed out that I missed last week! I've seen the frustration in those guys that make this such a meaningful part of their week. It makes me realize that their "back to front" seat filling this past week was done with a purpose. Many of them come down every week to worship with us. They get as frustrated with some of the nonsense that goes on as we do.

And when I think of the support that these guys need, not want, but need; it makes me realize the strength that all of us can get from our accepting the grace God has given us.

I don't know what you prayed Kelli, but I'll bet it was as inspirational as ever.

Your brother in Christ

Say a prayer for somebody today.

Stonefox (otherwise known as Heidi) said...

That's awesome! It is so God when He steps in to lead us into something that is so not US. It is an adventure to see where He will use us!

Sue J. said...

I think this is so special because you all have stumbled into the church the way God intended it to be. You bring yourselves; the prisoners bring themselves. But you both rely on the Spirit to work, not expecting that to come from yourselves, which is why you all leave changed people--whether you visibly see it or not.

And people who need the Lord all look different and all need different leaders, mentors and shepherds in their lives. That body analogy can be spread pretty wide; we just need to see what part we are and to whom we need to connect.

For you, right now, it's prisoners. For me, it continues to come back to children in some way (and that wasn't on my radar; I hear you, girlfriend!).

Terri Tiffany said...

You are such an encouragement to someone like me who often has told God no--I can't do it.
But I want to tell you today--don't say you can't write cause God is giving you the stories from the experiences you are doing for Him!

Laura said...

OH, Kelli. How can I encourage you in this ministry? I am so in awe of your bravery. And what a testament: when the guys filled the back rows first. Wow! They really get it, no?

You are a great inspiration.

Thank you, friend.

Julie Gillies said...

Hi Kelli,

I know what you mean about "our dreams" vs. God's plans for us. But when we surrender our plans for His, He makes our paths straight. THEN we'll hear "Well done, good and faithful servant."

I'm so proud of you! You are SO brave and God is SO good to push us out of our comfort zones, isn't He? LOL

I absolutely LOVE how the inmates filled up those back rows first. THAT, my friend, was the Lord dealing with the distractions for you!

Joy in The Truth said...

It is so awesome to see how God works in unexpected and often un-asked-for ways. He is amazing! He makes me giggle with joy to see how He uses us, how He is using you, for His glory and purposes. He catches us unaware sometimes. :)

1 Cor. 2:1-5
"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."

So that the inmates' fatih might rest on God's power.

You go, girl! Kelligirl that is. :)

Happy, Blessed, Peaceful and Joyous Easter!

Karen said...

THANK YOU for your ministry to those in prison. I was part of a team that ministered in a women's correctional facility. I know what you mean. I seemed like the least likely person for the job. I learned to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit and watch HIM work in the hearts of the women. What a blessing! Now I am writing to several prisoners through Evangel Pen Pal Ministry. Many are seeking to know Christ! God bless you. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

sarah said...

What a great ministry! Great to see you today.