The cell was painted a dingy yellow--a soul-killing, colorless yellow, and the trim was painted an equally soul-killing dark gray. The women's uniform was as unattractive as it could be--wide green and white stripes on a shapeless top and elastic waistband pants. The only variation came in the way some uniforms were severely faded from washing and others had seams fraying apart with only a few unskillful stitches holding them together.
15 beds were in the cell: five triple-high bunk beds made of gray steel. They were narrower than a normal single bed by about a foot, and most had no mattress--not even so much as a thin mat to sleep on. In addition to this, three women were sleeping on the floor due to overcrowding in the jail.
Two toilets were in a room off to the side. The only privacy was a falling-apart curtain that was so short, the curtain rod had to be placed at about chest level in order for it to cover any bit of the doorway. You had to duck under the curtain rod to get in the bathroom.
The women had white, pasty faces (no sunshine ever penetrated these windowless walls) unadorned by makeup. Their eyes had a hollow, hungry look, eager for a distraction, something new, anything to while away a few minutes. Each sat on her bed--her own little private space--and no one moved around the room or made conversation or tried to interact with one another.
There I was, in the middle of all this, dressed in my jeans and t-shirt with the bright orange and hot pink flowers. The guard had let me in, along with four other women, and had left, locking us in.
We were there to do a Bible study with the girls. We passed out song sheets, sang a couple of hymns, had a time of prayer, listened to Debbie teach a Bible lesson, and answered questions if the girls had any.
What a contrast we made--bright, happy, and allowed to walk out the door when we pounded on it to call the guard's attention.
We had been there about three hours and were in our last cell block when one girl wistfully asked, "What is the weather like outside today?" I looked around for the sky and realized there was no sky, no view of the outdoors, no tiny little crack to let in sunlight. It was just fluorescent bulbs--and I realized I had already forgotten what kind of day it was.
But oh! The glory of the presence of God that penetrates even to the deepest, loneliest cell. The girls were hungry for the Bible study. The guard would poke his head into a cell and say, "Y'all want a Bible Study?" We wouldn't be allowed in if they didn't want us. But we were never refused admittance--each time, a resounding "YES!" rose from a chorus of voices at the guard's question.
What an open door for ministry to hungry, broken, hurting people! When I prayed in the first cell, I felt the presence of God just rush into our midst, and hardened, grumpy, sullen-faced girls were suddenly sniffling audibly. Five of these same girls had raped a new prisoner just the night before (We met her in the fourth cell where she had been moved, and she told us the story, utterly traumatized and quivering with the memory of the abuse. I prayed for her, too, with my arms wrapped around her, pleading to my Abba Father to wrap His arms around her and bring her healing. Incidentally, though she was not the first victim, she was the first person ever to press charges for that, due to a system of intimidation and corruption that prevails within the prison walls. And though the whole thing was caught on camera, the guards did nothing to stop it until it was over.)
What a load of spiritual opposition confronted us, though! What a brazen, daring thing it is to walk right through the doors of one of the enemy's most formidable strongholds and presume to bring the light and truth of God's word there! (That story coming tomorrow.)
God's power has conquered Satan, has conquered death, and has conquered sin. By the blood of Christ, we have the right to march right into Satan's territory, flags flying, and expect to come forth victorious.
But it must be God who wins the victory. In ourselves, we are nothing. I have no strength to fight. I can't even see the principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, the spiritual wickedness in high places--and if I blindly swung at them (what? my fists? a sword? they would laugh at me!) I couldn't possibly expect to hit them.
My weapon is prayer, and the battle takes place before I ever set foot on the drawbridge to Fort Despair. I prevail through the power of the Holy Spirit in fervent prayer, and pray until God assures me that the victory is won. Only then do I walk through the gates. Only then do I invade the enemy's fortress. Only then do I reach out to the unfortunate prisoners he has bound in chains of sin and death. My God is with me, and He is the one who can rescue the captive. I look to Him, depend on Him, and trust in Him for victory. Alleluia!