I don’t usually like to put a lot of energy into a situation that appears hopeless. For instance, I’ve given up trying to make my teenage girls speak nicely to each other. (Okay, I haven’t really, physically given up – but mentally, I know where this is going – nowhere.) I am no longer trying to kill the algae in the pool (maybe the cooler weather will kill it).
Over the past few months I’ve been trying to figure out where I need to direct my talents and energy (what little I have; God gave it to me for a useful purpose, so I need to quit holding it inside and spread it around). I’ve been feeling a small tug to reach out to some group or community that I’m not comfortable with. It’s so easy to relate to people like me. But most of the people like me don’t really need whatever small insights I have (they are like me because they are already devoted Christians, meeting with the church regularly, being filled and encouraged – sure they’d miss me if I were gone, but their spiritual life would not likely be impacted). Who needs what I have? Who do I need to share with?
I’m not sure this is the answer, but today I filled out a background check form, and sat through a two-hour Department of Corrections training course. In a few weeks I hope to be cleared to start entering one of the local prisons to help lead worship on Sunday mornings with the ministry teams from South. (Our congregation really has an awesome prison ministry – with a full-time minister working at Angola (Louisiana State Penitentiary), and groups going to Hunt Correctional Center and the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women multiple times every week to lead worship services and Bible studies).
I’ve been to LCIW a couple of times with groups of kids participating in our Leadership Training for Christ program – helping them lead a worship service for the ladies at the prison. We were allowed in on a one-time basis, with the regular worship team. So I’m not really worried about going into the prison. And I’m not really worried about being a worship leader – I have no issue with delivering a short sermon or leading prayers. Song leading is another issue. (God has already given me some strong suggestions that I need to stop embarrassing His creation by mocking the beauty of song that He created 🙂 Among the great things he did in his too-short life, Ty Keith had a big part in delivering that message). Anyway, Dave Esmon encouraged us last Sunday to attend the training this Saturday, and I thought this could be a place I might be able to use my meager talents and help out the short-handed ministry team.
The training class was mostly what I expected, and a bit of surprise. Mostly prison rules – what not to bring in, how to dress, avoiding too much physical contact, do not accept anything the prisoners try to give you, what to do in the unlikely event of a hostage situation, etc. There were also some “rules” about avoiding denominational teachings – the inmates encounter numerous groups each week, and if we all delivered our “slant” on the Scripture, they’d just walk away confused (and stay away). Stick to the message of Christ.
The part that surprised me was the “profile” of the inmates. Inability to communicate or develop relationships, 90+% drug abuse, younger offenders with longer sentences, and on and on. The Hunt Prison (8 miles, 2 turns from my house) is known as “the death prison” in Louisiana. The lifers in the Louisiana prison system are sent to Hunt when they are nearing the end of their life. The chaplain giving the training class said that requests for benevolent release are always denied. There are numerous deaths at the prison every week. There is an entire cell block for men in wheelchairs. Seems like a hopeless existence.
On the other hand, what an awesome opportunity to help the inmates – and myself – see that our hope is not in this life.
I wouldn’t say I’m “psyched” about doing this, but I am ready to serve. Even if they need a song leader. As flat as my voice is, I know all I have to do is name the song, and the congregation in the prison will take it from there – at least in the women’s prison. I’ve heard them sing. It’s awesome, and VERY much alive with the Spirit. It really is incredible to see the level of hope in such a hopeless place.