(Follow up to yesterday's post)
In the third cell we visited, one girl seemed different from the rest of the prisoners. She smiled a big happy smile at seeing us and immediately welcomed us into their midst. "Yes! Something different to do!" she exclaimed. She seemed like the kind of person who is always the life of the party, and I thought, "Wow, it must be nice to have her as one of your cellmates!" We sat down on the floor (a little awkwardly, I might add, because the ceiling was leaking and there were rubbermaid bins sitting around to catch the water. One of the bins itself had a big crack in the bottom of it and was propped up at an angle so that the water wouldn't run out of the crack) and introduced ourselves. Then she announced her name, "Avery," and several of the other girls said their names, following her lead. This was also a first. In the other cells, we didn't learn the girls' names.
We passed out the hymn sheets and Sally started the first hymn, "The Old Rugged Cross." Avery sang loudly and wholeheartedly, with a big smile on her face. Then we moved on to "How Great Thou Art," and Avery again sang with fervor and emotion. We were going to stop there, but there were two more songs on the printed sheet, and Avery begged to sing "I'll Fly Away." Sally said we would maybe sing two of the three verses, but when we got to the end of the second verse, Avery proceeded on undaunted to the third, so we all joined in with her. Then she convinced us to sing the last song, too, which was "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High." We had just begun when, overcome with emotion, she broke down in tears. When it was over, she asked for it again, so we obliged.
"Wow," I was thinking. "Here is somebody who is really hungry. I wonder if she became a Christian here in jail?"
Lois announced that we would have a word of prayer next and asked if there were any prayer requests. "Oh, I'll pray," Avery volunteered. So after receiving the requests, Lois allowed Avery to pray. She did so with loud abandon, sobbing out the needs to God, and ended with, "In Jesus name--In JESUS's name, Amen."
At this point Debbie said that we would begin the Bible lesson.
"Oh, I think we have a couple of Bibles that I could pass out," Avery offered. ("No, we don't," the other girls said.) She went to the table and picked up a few books, but they were not Bibles, so she put them back down.
"That's okay," Debbie said. "I have the verses we're going to be studying printed out here on this sheet." She handed out the sheets to the girls.
"Today we will be talking about hope and encouragement," Debbie began.
"You know, that's funny," Avery interrupted. "I was just thinking about hope this morning. And I knew that meant a baby had been born."
We all paused and looked at each other. Debbie continued.
"The Bible says that God is our refuge and strength. Isaiah 40:33 says, 'but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.' "
Avery interrupted again. This time she said, "You know, when I think about Jesus coming back, you know he'll have to come first as a baby, then as a child, and then as a man, and I'm not sure, but I think I have been sterilized one time when I was put to sleep against my will. So I would just ask for prayer for that. I want to do my part to purify the human race."
Two or three of the other girls said, not too kindly, "Avery, we're here to listen to these ladies, not to you. Can't you hold your tongue for just a few minutes?"
"Ok, you're right," Avery agreed.
Debbie started in again on her material, but then Avery cut in again.
"You know, I reserve the right to do whatever I want to with my body, so when I get out of here, I'm going to cut off my right leg below the knee, have it amputated two inches below the knee..."
"Hush!" the other girls commanded.
Debbie tried again. She got about one verse read before Avery was at it again. This time it was something about how very, very painful her past had been, a boyfriend in New York, and "I don't care if I have to wait a billion years, I am never going back to being a man again."
The girls were beginning to lose patience with her. "Stop it. We are not here to hear you talk. Now let the ladies finish," they commanded.
Debbie read the next verse on her sheet. Avery took it upon herself to read the verse after that. Then she continued, "Now I also believe in reincarnation (major groan from the other girls at this point), and I believe that every person, every human being is born saved. We are perfect. We are little gods. We are like Jesus."
By this time, Lois and I were exchanging significant glances, and I asked a question with my eyes ("Do you want to say something?") and she mouthed the word, "you," so I launched in.
"Avery," I said as kindly as possible, "If you want to believe in reincarnation, you are free to make that choice. But I would just like to point out that God has revealed to us in his word what happens when you die." I opened to Hebrews 9:27 and read it. "'It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.' That means that you get one chance. The chance you get on this earth is your one chance. You are here alive today in this body, and this is your first and last visit to earth. You will have to stand before God at judgment day and give account to Him for what you did in this life, not any other."
"You're absolutely right," Avery said, looking me straight in the eye and nodding with conviction. "Yes. Yes. That's right. You're absolutely right," she said.
"And I also have to disagree with you about everyone being born saved and perfect," I continued. "The Bible says we are all sinners, separated from a holy God. Only those who put their faith in Christ will be saved."
"Yes," Avery said, nodding again. "Yes, that's right. You're absolutely right."
I paused to allow Debbie to go on with the Bible study. But it was Avery who read the next verse on the sheet, and the next, and on to the end.
At this point, Lois gave a stirring and passionate challenge to Avery, setting forth the truth in clear and certain terms. All the while, Avery was nodding seriously and saying, "Yes, yes. You're right. That's right."
When Lois was finished, Avery started to say something more when one of the other girls asked her to shut up. Avery stood up. "Okay. I'm finished. I'm just going to go over here now for a little while," she said. She left and went over to the bathroom.
All the girls started apologizing for Avery's behavior, and we said, "Oh, no, you don't have to apologize." But one after the other said, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." I asked one of the girls how long Avery had been in the cell with them. "About 3 hours," she said. "But I don't think she's getting ready to last much longer in this cell block." I said to the girls that I would be praying for them to be able to deal with that. Think of being locked in with a person like that...and being unable to get away from her.
I do worry for Avery, though--I worry that the girls will do violence to her. I don't know what circumstances she has suffered in the past for her to be the way she is, and if I knew what she had passed through, it would undoubtedly be a story to evoke compassion, not scorn or contempt for her. I pray for her. I pray for her future. I pray that she can be set free to be able to understand and accept the gospel. Join with me in prayer, will you? And may the God who is able to penetrate even the darkest cell and the most hurting heart do mighty wonders in her life.