"Why prisons?" a dear friend once asked. This friend has known me for quite some time and is aware of my background in ministry and music. Actually, I get the same puzzled look from many as I tell them that prison ministry has become my passion. All too often, the incarcerated are known for their open rebellion against the law, their refusal to follow the rules, their ruthless behavior, their hatred for anything good and their ability to lie compulsively. To a large extent, that stereotype is absolutely correct. However, there is another large percentage of convicts who DO NOT fit that stereotype and they have touched my heart. Let me explain how.
In our concerts, I often ask the audience, “How many of you went to Sunday School as a kid?” Seventy to eighty percent raise their hands. Many of them weep during the testimonies, when God speaks to them through a song and, especially, during the altar call. These are the ones who remember the voice of God, the prayers of a mother or loved one and are trying to break free of the chains that they have found themselves helplessly captive to. These are the ones with tears of desperation, hope and sincerity asking God for a second chance at life. You see, the stereotype mentioned above is something they cannot live with. They know God wants more from them, but they often have no idea how to get to the place where they can break out of the habits, thought patterns, racism and the relationships that they have vowed to honor.
I have also become keenly aware of their intentions to be Godly. I once heard a quote that I will never forget. “We judge others on what they do, but we judge ourselves by our intentions”.
Some convicts have been caught committing the most heinous of crimes and they deserve as much punishment as the law will provide. Some have no sense of remorse and will continue to be consumed with the heart and hatred of the enemy until their last breath. But the others... My love for the others is something I find difficult to express. I cannot turn my back on a man who is broken before God. I cannot reject a woman who has finally come to grips with the sin that has separated her from her Creator and earnestly seeks His forgiveness! THAT is the individual that we go to see. THAT is the person that I love intently and that this ministry is dedicated to. Everything we say and do in our concerts is prayerfully covered and designed to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to the audience. The result is a moving experience: both for them, and for us.
If Jesus were walking on this earth today, I seriously doubt that He would be hanging with the “spiritual elite”. He would be with those that He came to set free from a life that is ravaged by sin. He would be busy restoring life to the addicts, prostitutes and criminals. The very first man to receive salvation as we know it was the thief on the cross! Jesus said, “Surely, today you will be with Me in paradise!”
As I look about me every day, I am overwhelmed at the addictions and bondage of those who are quick to criticize my brothers and sisters in prison, or excommunicate someone else prematurely. How quick we can be to shelve someone who has committed a crime or has trouble shaking a chemical addiction when we are gluttons often controlled by greed, anger, lust, gambling and can’t manage our money. Friend, we all need Jesus and the salvation He provides!
I thank God we have the chance to receive His amazing gift, escaping the sentence for all the wrong that we have done. He has so graciously redeemed our sinful nature and given us grace so that we can stay in fellowship with Him. I am so blessed that God chose to save me by sending Jesus to die on the cross. I’m so glad that my sins do not have to be broadcast and publicized. Most of all, I’m so grateful that Jesus has mercy on me and forgives me when I stumble and fall.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son."