December 13, 2013
Progress in Prison
The past couple weeks, prison visits have been a little out of the ordinary. We normally wheel in there with our Bibles and hang out a bit, have a devotional time, speak to the guards, and then head out. In the past, one or two people and I stayed below with the teenagers and a couple of women went upstairs to the women's ward. Lately only three of us have been going, so we had to switch up the schedule a bit. Now we go to the teen area one week, the women the next.
For the first weeks after the recent change in leadership within the system, being allowed to enter was in question. It would seem now, however, that we are back in favor and can continue this visitation and Bible study time. We continue to pray for approval for the more intensive program we want to start after the holiday season.
Last week was our turn to visit the women, but we stopped off to see the guys quickly when we first entered. One had recently had a birthday and may be transferred out soon, so we're keeping a close eye on him. "J" happens to be one of the inmates who has made a big change. He's been a regular attendee in the Bible studies since we first began meeting over a year ago, although it would seem that his heart has softened toward God only recently. We took a few gifts for him and asked about his "big day" before going upstairs.
In the women's ward, we found another group of ladies already visiting and singing worship songs. Not wanting to interrupt, we quietly found seats and tried to slip in unnoticed. The pastor that works with the adult men saw me, though, and pulled me aside. Since the men he ministers to are in a special ward, they are able to have services every day. This pastor has worked hard to secure a Christian area, which prisoners have to earn the right to be transferred into, and even then only when a space becomes available. This ward was built not so long ago and is kept up nicely, with an area set aside for Bibles, commentaries, and videos. Some of the men have completed correspondence courses and take their Bible studies very seriously. When the pastor realized we were basically just visitors at someone else's service, he told me and one other lady to follow him.
We don't generally pass through the main area of the prison, as the teen section is right out front and the ladies are right upstairs. There are only about 25 boys and just under 40 women, including their small children, so everyone in those two sections knows us. However, to get to the Christian wing of the adult men's section, we have to go through what they call the heart of the prison, a corridor that runs through the middle and opens into each wing. Men are always gathered at those corridors, hanging through the bars and calling out as we pass by. I usually only visit back there when Ken is with me, but this time came without warning, so I just stuck tight with the pastor, his elderly companion, and the guard.
Today, we returned for a visit to the teen section. A person from the community donated money for these boys to have a special Christmas lunch, so we arrived with traditional party food--tiny empanadas, itsy-bitsy pieces of country-fried steak, something I can only equate to mini pigs-in-a-blanket, squares of some sort of ham and cheese pastry, and a few Cokes. After hearing several guys talk about how they weren't sure of their salvation--after all, they've been taught that they must earn it, and how can they do that from behind those bars?--out came the Bibles and these boys heard again that all who believe in Jesus have been given the right to become sons of God (John 1:12). It's a topic we discuss again and again, as it's so ingrained in their beliefs that they must complete certain tasks and even then cannot know their spiritual state. With this insecurity and the sins of their pasts, how could they ever hope to be assured of their salvation? But today, as we ate together and shared Coke, they had a lighter attitude, like the truth was breaking through.
Many times we plug away week after week there, without seeing or feeling any real results. In those times, we trust God to do the work and to use us to plant the seed or water what's already growing, knowing that He is the Lord of the harvest. It was great to share with these boys today and be able to see progress in their hearts. Thank you for your prayers for this ministry.