|The Carter County Jail (while still under construction)|
We walked into the brand new jail for the first time and a guard escorted us through a number of locked doors into a large room walled on all sides with one-way glass. (You could see in from the outside, but not out from the inside.) This jail was just recently built, and they had moved all the prisoners here since the last time we had come. Gone were the peeling paint, leaky ceilings, and ultra-dingy, drab surroundings.
Fourteen women came in to the room to have the Bible study. There were tables and chairs set up in the room, another welcome change, and they filled in the first three rows. Their careworn faces, unadorned with makeup, did not hide their eager eyes. They were hungry. They were glad we had come. Kim, one of the women we have built up a relationship with, brought a Bible. It was brand new two months ago, but now the pages were well-worn and betrayed many hours of reading.
Lois began with a word of prayer and then we passed out song sheets. "Oh!" exclaimed one girl. "They were telling me about the song sheets we get!" She eagerly took the two pages of the printout we had brought. We stood to sing, and the women stood with us. They sang along, not beautifully, but from their hearts.
Then Mom and I read a short skit that I had written, a simple dialogue between a lost, hopeless person (played by me) and a Christian who was witnessing to her (played by mom). As I wrote the skit the night before, I had stressed the concept of Christ's indwelling presence, His very life that He lives out in us, His power that gives us the ability to live the impossible life. The skit ended with the unsaved girl praying a prayer. I had written out what I was going to pray, but I just put the script in my lap and looked up to heaven and prayed what came from my heart in that moment. Tears came into my eyes as I prayed. I could hear sniffles from the room. Some of the girls were also in tears. God was touching their hearts.
This went along with the Bible lesson that Debbie had prepared, so after the skit, she passed out the sheets with the Bible verses and began to speak on salvation. Before she had gotten halfway through the lesson she had prepared, the door at the back of the room opened and a guard appeared. Thirty minutes had passed. Our time was up.
We were a little shocked, because before, in the old jail, they had allowed us as much time as we wanted. Now we were not nearly finished with our material, because after the Bible lesson, we intended to have a question and answer period where the women could interact with us. Kim especially always had questions.
Mom looked at the guard with her most cordial smile and said, "Do you think you could ask if we could have a little more time?" The guard hesitated, and then left the room.
"I have a question," one of the women in the second row said. Her name was Tina. There was a sense of urgency in her voice.
"When I came in here, I was so ashamed. I know God knows what I did, but I'm too ashamed to come to Him. How do I get past the shame? I've known Him all my life, but I can't bring myself to approach Him because I'm so ashamed. How do I deal with that?"
We just barely had time to squeeze in an answer before the guard came back and said that we couldn't have more time. We briefly talked about forgiveness and about how when Adam and Eve sinned, they were ashamed, yet it was God who sought them out, not the other way around.
The women all filed out the back door, and we were left alone in the front of the room. We thought that it was over. But as one of the women was leaving, she told us that they would be bringing another group to see us. Apparently there are two floors of women prisoners, and they have to bring each floor separately. We hadn't known this.
~ ~ ~
A few minutes later, the second group came in. There were nineteen of them. This time, they congregated towards seats at the back, and they all tended to sit far away from each other as well. When we sang, only one girl stood with us, and only a few of them sang along, but in low, muted voices. We had a word of prayer, and this time we asked for prayer requests. Several people asked for prayer for various needs, and we prayed. We had changed our plan slightly, knowing that our time was precious, so we only did the skit and skipped the Bible lesson (we had already given out our handouts to the first group anyway). We asked if anyone had any questions. Only one person did. These women were not as hungry or as engaged with us as the first group had been. Because we had been more efficient, we now had like 15 minutes to fill.
Mom spontaneously shared a brief exhortation on gratefulness that was very good.
Then I said, "Can I ask you all a question?"
A few heads nodded dully.
"We really love you," I said. "We want to treat you like royalty, and serve you, and wash your feet." The love of God was pouring into my heart and gushing out almost palpably as I said it. "But I'm new to this--this is my second time--and I'd like to get to know you. What are some of the ways that we could practically meet your needs? What are some things that we might not think of that would bless you?"
It was like an electric spark went through the room. I made eye contact with one of the girls. Her eyes were filled with tears. Love was working on hardened hearts.
"We just appreciate it that you come to talk to us," one woman said.
I knew there must be more. A sudden inspiration dawned on me.
"Can you all get mail?" I asked.
"Yes," they replied.
"How would someone send mail to you?" I asked.
"You have to write it on a postcard and address it to the jail. The postcard has to be completely blank on the front. It can't have a picture or anything." Then she added, with an eager, hungry smile, "But you can write with colored ink!"
(Colored ink. It is amazing how hungry for color the eye can get when you're inside the jail. The walls are painted a yellowish-beige color and the floors are dark gray concrete.)
"So would we address it to your name? Or do we need a number or something?" I asked.
"Our names," came the reply.
We used the back of one of the song sheets, and fifteen girls wrote their names on the list. The dull, uninterested atmosphere had completely changed. God had moved again in this second group in a completely different way than He had moved in the first--but in both cases, He was at work.
Thank you God!
A phone and a slice of bread
Multiplied Ministry Opportunities