(reprinted from 2013 journal) Day 4 Today is Prison Ministry. Unlike America, where we go into the prison and do church services in a comfortable setting, prison ministry here is hot sweaty work. The team set up instruments and sound system beneath a tin roof located outside the tall fence surrounding the prison. Inmates sit on benches inside the perimeter. About 50-60 men occupied the benches when we arrived.
I preached. I walked up and down in the dusty heat, baring my mother’s heart as I shared from my own life what a woman feels when her son (husband, father, brother) goes to prison. I taught about two worlds: the seen and unseen; two kingdoms, dark and light; two kinds of people, those dead in the darkness and those alive in Jesus. As I taught and Linda interpreted, faces began to appear in the 3 story cell block building behind the open yard. More joined those on the benches. I suspect it was the unusual spectacle of a white woman more than anything else.
I took it all the way to the altar call and then, turning aside from the close, I handed off to Mike. Many raised their hands to accept Jesus. I watched, fascinated, as a young man in a red shirt on the third floor balcony raised his hand. I pointed to him and nodded and he nodded back. I wanted him to know he had been seen. A cell mate came out and forced his arm down. After a brief scuffle, red shirt raised his hand again. Another came out to help hold the arm down. He persisted, so one of them picked him up and carried him inside the cell. After a few moments he emerged, both arms raised. Seconds later both the others came to stand beside him, their arms raised as well to receive their Savior!
I can see why people get addicted to foreign missions. Nothing stands between these people and their need. No propaganda, no ridiculous mantras about “doing it my way”, no promises of help from people who send other people’s money to fix social ills only a change of heart can effect.
I know it can’t always be this easy. I understand Mike and Linda have poured 16 years into this land, preparing a foundation, standing strong and persevering, steadfast in their commitment. God honors such things.
I have just begun to realize how hardened people are in the U.S. They have heard the gospel over and over and they are inoculated to the very thing that will alleviate their suffering and fulfill the longing in their hearts for something more. And they are also turned away from the gospel by the hypocrisy and disdain, the pride and judgmentalism, of so-called Christians in the West.
Here, Jesus’ message of love and mercy is not diluted by the condemnation and arrogance of purely intellectual Christians. The raw need is not obscured by programs that simply band-aid the problem but cannot bring true healing. Do I believe in programs that feed, clothe, medicate, and train people? Oh yes! But I despise the idea of turning people into charity junkies, always dependent on the next temporary fix when God wants to show them how to be so much more than they currently are, teaching them to believe their lives can change, their hearts can change, and their circumstances can change because the God of all hope blesses those who belong to Him.
Ten of the new converts wanted to be baptized. The prison officials pulled up a big blue barrel, filled it bucket by bucket from a nearby well, and then let them out the gate one by one to be buried and resurrected in Christ. Hallelujah! After I joined Mike doing the Baptisms, I handed out Bibles in their language, courtesy of the children from my little church.
(names have been changed)
(photo courtesy of forums.watchuseek.com)