On the last Thursday in 2016, when my friend Carol and I approached Wing 2 at the Texas County Jail, we could hear voices from inside the wing’s common area announcing our arrival. Sixteen women poured out from the cells with Bibles in hand and smiles all around anticipating the ministry that we would share together but none of us realized the degree of the Spirit that would attend this gathering. Five of the women were there from Wright County Jail due to overcrowding. They were already enjoying their new home and especially the spiritual quality of new friends they were making since their arrival. We watched a video presentation about “Hope: When Life Hurts Most” by Louie Giglio. The follow-up response from the group was raw in its brokenness and need for the touch of the living Spirit of Christ. God delivered, as some of the women bore their testimonies of the ways he had moved in their lives since coming to jail. One talked about sitting on the floor with a small group of women in a dank hallway in another jail where there was no air moving but the page in her Bible all of a sudden turned to the next page as if an air current had turned it. The others noticed it as well, as it happened twice. The next morning, she took the time to read the reference on that page and wept as the Spirit poured over her. I John 5, starting in verse 6: “This is He that came by water and blood. . .” Another woman testified that she had been placed in lockdown with a cellmate who was not interested in reading Scriptures or saying prayers. At the end of that lockdown period, her cellmate admitted to her that now she was praying too. She realized that God had taken something meant for punishment and had turned it into something good for her and her cellmate. “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:27-28 The shared testimonies of the few were now given to all as their testimony to believe and share even if they hadn’t seen or experienced it firsthand. “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’.” John 20:29 We talked about the Scripture “He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world” and how that could be a mantra to repeat over and over when they are tempted to give into the choices that repeatedly brings them back to this place. In our closing circle, with grasped hands, spread out in the brightness of day under the skylight, we further felt the outpouring of the Spirit in the intercessory prayer for the women and their families, the jail personnel and system of justice in Texas County. There were requests for Life Recovery Bibles on this day. On my follow-up the next day when I brought the Bibles and a pair of reading glasses someone requested, I was also able to arrange for a representative of the On Time/Cornerstone Ministry to come and work with one of the women who needed that resource. This ministry specializes in providing housing and restorative programs for victims of human sex trafficking. She was accepted into that program.
I John 5 is a beautiful chapter and worthy of the “page turning” miracle the women experienced. The following is I John 5:
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but Godʼs testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”
God’s Scriptures are beautiful and reassuring for every circumstance in which we find ourselves. There is so much in this chapter that is nothing short of miraculous as we take these spiritual truths into our lives. We could read this chapter at the start of every day and be reminded at every turn that ”we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life”. NIV
The miracles that the inmates experience are like a fragile green shoot that is just starting to break through the soil. At first, they can’t even believe that God would give them a miracle so the Spirit has that barrier trying to get through to reach them. They can’t keep this green shoot alive on their own. They need a community of believers who will be there for them upon release and who will help nurture this new life. If you are doing well, it’s most likely that you have a family who believes in you and loves and respects you. It’s just by the grace of God that you were born into that family and in that community who provides so much for you. Many do not experience that. We glorify God by sharing our well-being with others who God puts in our path and by the way we live out our faith in loving community for all. The brother or sister in front of you who seeks your help is very much a part of your salvation. God has sent them to you to give you an opportunity to respond to his Spirit and fill that needs of which we are able.
“ I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.” Ecclesiastes 3:10-14 NIV
One morning in Women Rising, one of the inmates who had been in and out of jail more than once during the time I have been going there, had written this Ecclesiastes 3 reference down on a yellow writing pad. She was so pleased to share it with me, but it caused me great sorrow to know that so much was missing in her life and her self-belief system that she was unable to take it in and allow it to take hold in her life. She was not strong enough to stand against what was destroying her – mental illness, drug addiction, dysfunctional family members, abusive associations and worst of all – a destructive childhood. What do you say to this person who is so broken in her spirit that these beautiful words have no real power to reach or rescue her? The only thing I could do was respond in a loving way to reassure her that the Spirit had made her aware of the beauty of this reference as a gift to her. Personalizing God’s ministry to each seeker is very important toward the God/child connection that plants that mustard seed of faith and hope.
The devastation in the lives of the inmates are greatly in part a symptom of the failure of the greater community to be able to live out the true calling of Christ to protect our children, love one another and pay forward the blessings God has given us. The addiction and violence will never stop until we respond to that flesh and blood calling. If we believe that in fact, God has planted eternity within us as the Scriptures say, then we will live with that far-reaching perspective, above our personal wants and needs. We are co-creators with God, helping him give someone a better chance to live out the purpose for which they were created.
“Have you heard the story about Mr Jones, who dies and goes to heaven? When he arrives, St Peter is waiting at the Pearly Gates and takes Mr Jones on a tour of heaven. Mr Jones is awestruck. The streets are paved with gold, beautiful mansions glisten in the sunshine, choirs of angels sing the most beautiful songs. Partway through his tour of heaven Mr Jones’ eye is drawn to an odd looking building, an enormous warehouse with no windows and just one door. What an odd structure for heaven! ‘You don’t really want to see what’s in there,’ says St Peter. ‘But I do, I do’ says Mr Jones. He races across the lawn and pushes open the door to discover rows and rows of shelves, floor to ceiling. Stacked on the shelves are thousands of white boxes. The boxes all have names on them. ‘Is there one with my name on it?’ asks Mr Jones as he rushes to the J aisle. He finds the box with his name on it and opens it up. His mouth drops, his pulse quickens, and finally he says to Peter, ‘What are all these wonderful things inside my box? Are they the good things in store for me now I’ve reached heaven?’. ‘No’ replies St Peter. ‘They’re all the blessings God wanted to give you while you were alive on earth, but which you never received.’ A sad look came over Mr Jones. He looked into the box, to St Peter and then back to the box. ‘Why?’ he asked St Peter. ‘Why did I miss out on all these blessings?’ ‘Well, that’s a long story…’ replied St Peter.” Story adapted from Bruce Wilkerson, Stories for preaching.com
This work can be so daunting in the face of the need but then we remember, in an unlikely place the page that turned where there were no air currents and the words on the page came alive “This is He. . .” and we remember we are not alone. Jesus came to reassure us that He is with us and will never leave us. He just wants us to have hearts where He can live. “Come Jesus, Come.”