(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)