Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Freedom - Part II

Sunday night a group of people parted ways whose lives will never be the same - ever!

A bunch of people from "the outside" left the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility to head back to their families, to their friends, to their jobs as people whose hearts were changed and lives will never be the same.

They got to go home to their wives and children waiting up for them. They got to go back to work on Monday morning, to their golf leagues and vacations and all the other stuff that "free" people get to do - but I contend that none of those things will ever look the same, that they will never be enjoyed the same as they were last Wednesday prior to entering the prison.

On the contrary, the inmates at FDCF said goodbye to their brothers on the outside and returned to the prison population, full of the Holy Spirit with hearts changed and burning for Jesus Christ. At least many of them were.

They were thrust back into their cells, their units and the yard - where the reality of their environment is anything but freedom - at least the way the world would define freedom - to live the life that Christ is calling them to live. They were hurtled back into prison life, many of them free from the chains that have bound them for years, but also free from the love of the guys on the outside who were there for three-and-a-half days to share Jesus Christ with them.

Well, maybe.

If the other guys that left those prison walls on Sunday night are at all like me (and I know that they all are), they haven't been able to get these guys out of the minds or off their hearts. The move of the Holy Spirit inside those walls this weekend was an amazing thing to see.

The power struggle, signs of infallibility and toughness that Thursday afternoon showed were replaced on Saturday night by 40 inmates, 15 volunteers from the inside and the 15-20 guys from the outside - arms around each others shoulders swaying t0 the music and praising God.

FREEDOM!

It's an image that will never be replaced. So is the healing service for Rob. So is the testimony of the 33 year inmate who has done time for 15 years who stood before his brothers in blue and told them that their story doesn't have to be his - that Jesus Christ is the way to freedom, to staying out of prison once they get out of prison. Baring his soul, this inmate was a sign of hope, of freedom for us all.

Simply stated, I am blown away at how amazing our God is.

On Thursday afternoon, God put two inmates in particular in my sight. Two guys that he wanted me to keep my eye on, I guess. The first left Thursday night and didn't return, but the other inmate (who had just spent three weeks in the hole) stuck it out.

We only have one chance to make a first impression - and his was not a particularly strong one. But he remained, and was in my line of sight all weekend long. I confess that I steered clear of him when I probably should have approached him, but I managed to pray for him on a couple of occasions, and watched as the walls continued come tumbling down from around him.

From a stone cold, mischievous appearance to one of softening in just four days.

On Sunday, during the final talk of the weekend, my friend Joel had everyone's attention - including mine. He was preaching perseverance, telling his own story and his own struggles and what it looks like to live for Christ.

I was a bawling mess (surprise, surprise for those who know me). Ten minutes after he was done and the guys were discussing the talk, I was still a basket case. Rob comforted me with a pat on the back and I tried to pull myself together, but was going back over the piece Joel read at the end of his talk when I got a slap on the knee.

"You all right?" I was asked.

"Yeah, I'm OK."

"Life's hard sometimes, isn't?" I was asked.

"Yeah, it can be, I guess."

- pause -

"My daughter was born since I've been in here and my mom was killed in a motorcycle accident since I've been in here. I didn't get to go to her funeral."

It's him, the guy God placed in my way the first minutes I stepped foot into the prison.

HE is comforting and ministering to ME!

Huh?

"I'm so sorry," I said. "I am so sorry."

"But wait," I said. "What are you doing? God put you in front of me at the very beginning of this weekend and now YOU are ministering to ME? That isn't how this is supposed to work."

I actually said that.

But that is how cool God is.

It's the moving of the Spirit blessing people. Those from the outside blessing those from the inside and vice-versa.

It is so awesome that the God of the universe, the maker of heaven and earth, gives us a glimpse into his power and might by blessing us in while in willing service in His name.

I can't get those guys out of my mind or off my heart, and so while we will likely never see one another again this side of heaven and we have been thrust back into our individual environments, we have not parted ways.

Ecclesiastes 4:10 tells us "If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!"

Petitioning Christ Jesus on the behalf of those on the inside is something that will continue for a long, long time. God has joined us together - offering all of us FREEDOM!

7 comments:

Anne L.B. said...

I've had so many people raise an eyebrow over jail ministry, or shake their heads with amazement and an "I could never do that."

It seems the most natural thing in the world to be with my sisters in Christ. Whenever I'm ministering to the women at the local county jail, I'm always at peace among them.

My biggest heartache is the prohibition to hug inmates. When they've sensed my affection and risk hugging me anyway (in rules violation), I'm doubly blessed.

Jennifer said...

It's been a blessing to read and re-read the thoughts that you've shared, and Jon over at his blog, and then getting to chat about it in person with my hubby. :-)

I'm so thankful that you've ministered to these men -- but equally thankful that all of you have seen the way these men could minister to you in return. Blessings really go both ways, don't they?

Great post, Chris.

Scott McQueen said...

Hi Chris!

You got me thinking on this one (and crying too). Not so long ago, I almost ended up on the other side of those iron bars for quite a while. By the grace of God, my case was dismissed. Those few hours I spent without freedom changed my life forever. It has been a year and three months and there is no turning back. I am free in this world; a bond servant to Christ. Thank you so much for taking the time to minister to these guys during the hardest and most lonely time of their lives.

God Bless You!

Who feels it; knows it!

Scott

patty said...

Oh, Chris. This is the 1st opportunity I've had to do some blogging in a while and this post, written weeks ago, ministered to me today. It gives me hope & encouragement. Thank you for being you...real, vulnerable, full of grace...and for sharing your experience.
And from one cryer to another...I'm bawling.

RCUBEs said...

Prisons are the most dark places ever in need of the Lord's saving grace. So glad to hear that you have this wonderful ministry. I'm glad to come across your site through sister Jennifer's [Getting Down With Jesus].
As a nurse in a correctional facility, I've seen it all. But to be used by the Lord in that setting is amazing! May the Lord bless you all who do prison ministries. There is nothing like the "freedom" that comes from Christ. Prisoners who were found by His grace are way better than the ones outside who are still unbelievers. To God be the glory!

Billy Coffey said...

I think it's utterly amazing that you do this, Chris. This post truly blessed me.

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

There are ways that we live in our own little prisons--we can all relate to that...especially those who's prison is living behind bars.

God is good.