Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Day 3, thankful

Today's blog comes from a Facebook posting by my friend Doug Bywaters. I think he said things better than I could.

Day 3, thankful

I’m blessed with three great children. I am certain my image is engraved into their memory, especially images of disapproval, approval and joy. I know it to be true since I can still hear my Dads voice once in a while, usually something like “Dougie Dammit” (no… I never thought my last name was Dammit as Bill Cosby claims). I believe voices of condemnation and affirmation work with our learned sense of right and wrong, guiding our choices every day, and for this I am thoughtful.

So what if a youth does not have a positive influence, what if their moral compass points in a direction that eventually lands them in jail. How does one re-calibrate the compass? Well, that is what the past three days have entailed. As a team, we flood every participant with as much Love as possible. There are literally over a Thousand (1000) different people tangibly involved in funding, prayer and full contact interaction for 30 young men during this single weekend. At first glance this might seem to be enough i to make an impact, but in my humble is nowhere close enough.

The key to making a difference is the third person of our holy trinity. I had two opportunities’ to spill my guts this weekend, and a bunch of thrashing of my old Yamaha FG180. During speaking, thoughts came to me that influenced my short messages. I learned today that many of the young men put pencil to paper, taking notes relating to a particular portion of my talk, a portion I thought was insignificant. I didn’t build that, I didn’t plan that…heck I can’t even take credit for writing that but I am confident I know who did.

How many times have we heard “let go and let God”, usually encouraged when we are near the end of our rope. I don’t think we close to the end of our rope this weekend, but we entered the prison knowing we could not do it “alone”, and we were not alone. We had too many coincidences occurring to be coincidence, several young men at the end of the weekend shared their amazement of what they experienced. So I wonder who’s voice will these young men hear when the holy spirit affirms or discourages choices they are about to make? I hope for at least a few it will be mine and I hope it is my affirming voice.

Again, you may be wondering what is my reason for this long rant? It’s because I hear many very dear friends on FB committing to prayer when they know the Holy Spirit is telling them to become involved. I know I don’t always jump in with both feet, but after this weekend I am considerably more aware that a voice of direction available, if I only listen. Given all that, what does the Holy Spirits voice sound like to you and are you listening? For some of us, acting now to Gods call could defer the efforts of a thousand people to someone else. For others, a whole new world would be opened ahead of them. What are you going to do with that?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

It's a miracle...

Tonight, as we were ready to head home, we heard from this week’s big boss, Doug, that he’d seen miracles take place this weekend. He went on to list the miraculous things he’d seen – not the least of which was getting to go in in the first place, or watching as the Corrections Officer, sent to monitor us and the Stars,  joined us in a very important worship activity. I agree with him, but I am going to offer a different set of reasons.

Prison ministry the way we do it – a group of about 30 adult volunteers of all shapes, sizes, races, backgrounds descending on a facility for three days – is an odd beast. All over this world, there are called believers who toil away in ones and twos, entering into the world’s darkest places to shine the light of Christ. We don’t do it that way. We’re a pretty loud bunch when we arrive and many of us are close friends. We’re definitely a family with all the joys and annoyances families bring. And that’s where I saw miracles today. I see them every time we gather to get our team set or to go in for a weekend, but today I realized what a miracle I’ve really been given.

Let me describe our team for a moment. We have more than a couple retirees. Two ex-Army officers. A couple of government employees/contractors, two guys who make microchips who work in the same company who just realized it today, a Baptist church pastor, a young guy who’s struggled with diabetes his entire life, a woman parole/probation officer, an ER nurse and an accountant from Maryland, an equal number of women and men from all walks of life.

Today we heard stories from the young man with health problems how he almost died in an Emergency Room once. We heard from his mother how thought God was taking her baby for some wrong she’d done. We heard from a 56-year-old who had a one-time career as a hustler and bank robber who lost his daughter when she was 20. He talked frankly about his anger toward God. We heard from a young woman (a law enforcement official herself) about her depression during her college years. We heard from our Baptist pastor friend about his struggles with drug addiction and alcohol abuse which led to several suicide attempts. We heard yesterday from the 50-ish accountant who spoke frankly about losing her virginity during a one-night stand with a musician when she was 19 -- and the unplanned pregnancy which followed. And we heard from one of our more mature members of her drug addiction and promiscuity which followed her divorce.

These are the people – real people with real stories – that God has blessed me with to do ministry. We have in common our love for Christ and our calling to spread that love around – to some young men who probably haven’t received a lot of it in their lives.

Last week, while visiting a church in the Richmond area I heard an interesting viewpoint on the story of the woman at the well. In the fourth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well at midday – the hottest part of the day -- Long after the honorable women of the community have gotten their water and headed home to escape the noonday heat. Jesus knows the woman had five prior husbands and now was on her sixth man Needless to say, she was not the kind of girl you’d bring home to mother. But Christ engaged her despite her stigma. He revealed to her that He was the Messiah – the one who’d bring her people – and all people -- salvation. And the Gospel is clear here: She ran home to her town and told them: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

The message last week made this point clear – she dropped her water jar and told her story to her town. Chances are this unvirtuous woman was probably not well-received. How could this floozy be the one who met the Messiah? How could this unclean person be the one to tell this story? Surely the Savior would reveal Himself to someone a little more proper. But the woman was sent by Christ. She didn’t stop. She didn’t clean up. She didn’t change her ways. She ran home to tell her story. 

Why would God send a former junkie, a former slut, a former bank robber and a host of other broken sinners to tell His story? All I can say is: it’s a miracle. And God just keeps doing this every day. Am I am continually blessed to be a tiny part of it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Expect God to show up...

Last night I mentioned that my new mantra for the weekend is “Expect God to show up.” And today He showed up in the most unlikely way. For several weeks, I’d been praying for this weekend and I’d always heard the reply (from Christ actually), “I’m going to do something really big, but you’ll never guess what.” I must’ve heard that five times in the past week alone. 

That said, track back one year and on our first day of Epiphany 17, a fight broke out among three young men. It was serious. And scary. Probably par for the course there, but in 17 weekends, we’d never seen anything like it. The three guys were hauled off in cuffs by 22 Corrections Officers and I’d honestly forgotten about them. Not the incident, but them as individuals. 

That is, until today, when one of them showed back up and was assigned to my table. Yikes!
L Is a bright young man, but the last time I saw him he was being dragged from the room, shouting obscenities  toward anyone who’d listen. It was a less-than-friendly farewell. And now here he is, sitting across from me. And while I was not fearful, as I’d not been directly impacted by the fight last year, I knew others who’d spent time with him last year were mighty hesitant. 

At first, he was sullen. Ignoring the basics, a little rude, not exactly a shining star. I was more than a little concerned he would cause more trouble and have to be excused again, under his own power or not. Then, by the time the second talk rolled around, he was a changed man. He was smart, engaged, paying attention, asking, discussing, singing, smiling and just fun to be around. I won’t chance a guess what was going on inside of him. I can only assume that God was doing something big. 

Bigger still was the reaction of two very close team friends, both of whom were directly involved in last year’s incident. Both of them, when they recognized him, went out of their way to welcome him back – showing him the same forgiveness God shows to us. They were modeling Christ’s love right there and then. Maybe that’s what caused his turnaround. Either way, God showed up – and He did something big for a lot of people today. 


Quick story: another one of my Stars, a young fellow named K -- with Hollywood good looks -- admitted to me that he'd spent much of his teenage years "Hittin it and quittin it", a rather crude reference to his sexual prowess. In the old days, it would be called "Love em and leave em." Either way, K admitted he was quite the dog on the prowl. He also told me he'd quit high school so he could play a specific racing video game (which, by the way, my 8-year-old son also loves. First time I've been afraid to let my kid around a Star :)). 

Then K says, "I realized, after I got locked up how selfish I was being. I was only looking out for myself. I think God sent me to prison so I wouldn't get anyone pregnant. You know, I came into prison a little boy, but I'm going to leave here after three years and be the man God wants me to be and knows I can be." 


Expect God to show up... 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Angsty week...

So sometimes God at work is harder to see. And headed into the Culpeper Juvenile Detention Center for the 19th Epiphany weekend at the facility, we’ve been incredibly challenged to see God at work all week as final preparations were being made. Maybe it was God’s way of humbling us. Maybe He wanted to remind us who is actually in charge. Either way, it’s been tough. 

We received word on Monday that the facility’s new superintendant and the security chief had some very real concerns for the safety of our team, the other residents and the staff. An increase in gang activity as well as a recent assault on a staff member were fueling their concern. (We sometimes forget that we’re dealing with some real troubled, and troublemaking, crew here). So the new boss at the facility at first is hesitant about letting us come in at all. Then her suggested solution is for us to shrink the three-day schedule into a single day, and then we do it three times for three different groups. Now I should mention that we’re five days out and talking (seriously) about trying to re-write the entire weekend and completely rescheduling everything we’ve been planning for the past six months or so. 

But, since we’re there as guests of the facility – they don’t have to let us come in at all – we’re not negotiating from a position of power here. Blessedly, after much prayer and an awful lot of phone calls and emails among the leadership of Epiphany and the leadership of the facility, and a lot of Holy Spirit intervention on all sides, we were able to reach a workable compromise. But we didn’t get word that the solution had been agreed to by the facility until 18 hours before we were set to move in for the weekend. Now go! 

Again, God has been with us every step of the way – even when we were in doubt. Throughout the day today, I’ve heard repeated the message: Expect God to show up. That’s my new mantra for this weekend. And maybe it should be for my life. 

Pray for us this weekend! And if you are, comment here or send me a note @ Let me know if I can share it. We all appreciate knowing people are praying for us.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

“I don’t know when the last time I had a hug was.”

Prison ministry is tough. And I think sometimes we’re naive about it. I think we sometimes forget that these kids have very serious issues: economic, social, medical, psychological, addictions, perversions and so on. And I think we sometimes think that with enough love and Doritos that we can make a dent in those problems. I sometimes joke that Doritos are a gateway food – a gateway for the Holy Spirit to get inside and do some work. 

This weekend, though, I think we all realized in different ways that despite our best intentions and efforts we can’t fix them all, and we can’t fix them by ourselves. The problems and issues and stuff they face and where they’re from and where they are now is so much bigger than we are.

But I have to remember – and frequently be reminded – that God is so much bigger than all of the stuff they face. They just have to let Him be. 

I didn’t do any writing last night when we got home because I was frankly too tired to think much. And perhaps the extra day gave my thoughts the opportunity to stew around a little bit. On Sunday, I was dejected because we’d lost two Stars – one because he opted to watch the Redskins-Falcons game which meant he couldn’t come back, and one because I think he was put into an uncomfortable position with some of the ideas we were discussing and he was overcome by his feelings. I was truthfully hurt, and angry, and discouraged. 

On Monday, I was overcome with relief when R – the kid who was overcome – returned. I wanted him back. The football fan, I wasn’t so thrilled when he was allowed to come back. I knew he thought he’d played us for fools. I resented that. Maybe I still do a little. 

But I was generally much more encouraged when we started the day. But as the day progressed, I heard more stories; saw more pain in their eyes, worried more about the future of our inner cities, wept inside for young men who never had a chance to be children. 

It’s an emotional roller coaster, prison ministry. Toward the end of the day, we met with three young men with whom we’d spent extra time throughout the weekend. One of them, a young man named T, said what he appreciated most were the hugs we gave at the end of every day, and first thing every morning.
“The hugs were better than the food,” T said. “They kind of made me feel like you people really cared about me and that maybe I should pay attention to you.”

I asked how long it had been since he’d had a hug. “I don’t when the last time I had a hug was. A long time, a very long time.” He paused. “Is heaven like this? If it is, I think I need to know how to get there.”

We didn't save every soul this weekend. Not by a long shot. Actually, we didn't save any souls. The Holy Spirit saved some -- hopefully many. We were just there to provide the Holy Spirit's hugs. At least we did a good job at that for one.