At one of our services this week a man asked us to pray for strength. He has decided to close his case which means he is going to serve out the rest of his term without going before the parole board and trying to get out earlier. Does that sound crazy? For most, yes. But he has Jesus and feels God calling him to stay…to stay and share the Gospel with the men he is incarcerated with. What a testimony of faith and trust in our mighty God! He admits there are times he struggles with this decision but knows this is what God has laid on his heart to do. I am in awe of God’s marvelous work in this man’s life and thankful that I get to witness real change in the lives we are privileged to minister to. All for His Glory! That’s why we are here, living and breathing, for God’s Glory! Deserving or not, I don’t know that I would be able to give up a possibility of an earlier out-date, freedom from incarceration. Would I even consider it…for His Glory?
How are you living for God’s Glory?
We served in three prisons this past week, we saw 21 lives come to faith in Christ… countless more growing in their faith. James gave a challenge at Algoa Friday night, to go out two by two and share the Gospel on the yard to which one man shouted “who’ll be my partner?!” Many men came to the altar that night to start again, surrendering, trying to get it right and live sold out lives for Jesus. They are praying for boldness and strength to share Jesus with gang bangers, drug dealers, and more… for – His – Glory!
How are you living for God’s Glory?
I want to live a life so saturated by the grace, love, and hope of Jesus that it spills out and over every single person I cross paths with. I want to give up more and more of this life to live eternally. And when people hear my name, they will think of Jesus and how I loved Him and served Him. Although my best attempts are filthy rags and my feeble self struggles to overcome my own selfishness, I so desire to live for His Glory, to make Him known. Help me, Jesus, to live my life all for Your Glory…
We take prayer requests in our prison services and one of the greatest desires of the incarcerated is reconciliation with their families. They long to be restored to the ones they love, they ones they belong to. And they need that connection with the outside world, they yearn for their forgiveness, their love, and to be included in the family they left behind. This isn’t a matter of being worthy, this is a matter of grace. There’s not much one can do behind the razorwire to earn trust. They try with words and they pray.
I think when these men come face to face with their sin and repent and turn to Jesus, their eyes are opened and their hearts broken for their people, their precious families that have to struggle and wade through life without them. They see the grace that Jesus offers to them and it gives them hope. Because if Jesus can forgive them, maybe, just maybe someone else can too. And so they pray, they ask for prayer, and they wait… longing for a phone call, a letter, a visit… just a glimpse of mercy from their loved ones. We’ve seen it happen for some, a picture received of a grandchild, a daughter… a long awaited letter. And for the rest, they’re still waiting. And if we are honest, some will wait forever. Sunday night at JCCC, the maximum security prison, (where men seldom go home and the ones that do have spent most of their lives there), we took prayer requests and a gentleman asked for reconciliation with his family… if he had any family still alive… he didn’t even know… he’s still waiting.
The other side? Families outside the razorwire are still waiting too. We led a service at a sweet little church recently and a woman asked us to pray for her husband who was incarcerated, she was very broken, weeping over not having him there with her. Her prayer was for him to be encouraged, for Christians to rise up around him and help him stand strong. And so we prayed, and she waits. Prison ministry is not just for the ones on the inside, at practically every service we’ve had the privilege to be a part of we have encountered families that have been affected by a loved one being in prison. Another prayer request from offenders… pray for our families, our children, who have to carry on without us.
Some might say they don’t deserve to be restored to their families, that their families are better off without them, that they are getting what they deserve. We understand that there are consequences for our actions and they are indeed paying for them but we are called to love them, to show them grace. It’s what we are commanded to do, it’s what this ministry is about…love and grace for those inside the prison walls and for those outside waiting. Pray and wait with them.
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” Hebrews 13:3
Last Saturday we had the privilege to provide a Yard Jam at Algoa Correctional Center. Two bands came to share the love of Jesus and their talents with the inmates, “Sanctified Blues” a christian blues band from the Eldon/Versailles area and the Cornerstone worship band from Sedalia. The Gospel was proclaimed through song, the Word, and Johnny’s testimony and men came to know Jesus. We were blessed to have the Algoa chaplain and two volunteers from Woodcrest chapel available to pray with the men, along with James and Johnny. Some came to pray to receive Christ and others came to pray for their families, the battles they’re facing, and more. Before we even began we circled up to pray and the chaplain prayed for “one man”, the one man that would be sitting in the back, all alone, perhaps pretending not to listen. The one man whose heart was being tugged on by the Holy Spirit. At the end of the day we gathered together again to give thanks for the work that Jesus did and the chaplain told us about “one man”, one man that was sitting in the background, listening, pondering…this one man knelt down and prayed a prayer of repentance and surrender to Jesus. Praise God!!!
One of my favorite moments of the day was when I looked out across the yard during the invitation, Mark was quietly strumming his guitar, men were praying with the volunteers and the chaplain in various places throughout and two inmates on different parts of the yard were proclaiming Jesus and His Gospel to the men around them. They were evangelizing in their neighborhood, in their community! One of these men had already been preparing for this day, he had written scripture passages on slips of paper to pass out during the concerts, he was encouraging the other believers in our Friday night chapel service to come alongside him and he was helping them with what to say and how to go about approaching a fellow offender who was lost, who may be a gang member. What an example to us all!
There are more stories but I’ll share this last one…a man came to the yard jam that had never been part of any kind of church service, he gave his heart to Jesus and now plans to come to the chapel. This is what the Gospel does, it changes hearts, it changes lives. And we are so very blessed to be a part of it.
Every life matters. Whether it’s a prison inmate, starving children in a third world country, a drug addict, someone living an alternative lifestyle, a man holding a cardboard sign at an intersection…every life matters. I hope I never get so wrapped up in my calling to prison ministry that I miss the people right in front of me, right in my own back yard. I want to live a life that is different, a life that is not comfortable, not safe, a life sold out to Jesus. I want to live like Jesus lived, seeing people and their need, giving them hope, love, grace, and mercy. It doesn’t matter whether I think they deserve it…none of us really do…thank goodness for Jesus, He loves us even in our filth and offers grace. An offender shared a song at one of our services recently and one line caught my attention, it simply said “Day after day, Jesus won’t throw you away”. How many people do we walk by and disregard because we think they are unworthy of love? Or not worth our time? Our team may be called to prison ministry but as believers in Jesus Christ we are all called to love people, regardless of their sin or situation.
I would like to think that we would all desire to see everyone we come in contact with to come to saving faith in Christ. Wouldn’t it make them better citizens, coworkers, friends, acquaintances, family members? Real change happens through the power of the Gospel. Some people think we are wasting our time sharing Jesus with inmates, we’ve heard the cliche’ “it’s only jailhouse religion”. But rest assured, we see what Jesus does inside the razor wire, He wrecks people, He brings them to the end of themselves and they are transformed before our very eyes. We see them grow from week to week, finally seeing and realizing how much this Great God of the universe loves them, how faithful He is and that He has such a beautiful wonderful plan for their lives.
Just this week an offender, who had been asking us to pray for his father, gave a praise report of the healing God was doing in his father’s life. They are seeing the power of prayer…God is becoming so real to them.
Will they falter? Will some of them fall? Sure…we do that too, don’t we? But some are going to reach their families for Christ, their communities. Some will be productive citizens for maybe the first time in their lives. Some will be able to handle whatever trials come their way because they now have Jesus to walk through it with them.
The Gospel isn’t just for the people we think are deserving, Jesus died for all. Who are you going to tell about Him today?
The Sing for the King team traveled many miles last week, held many services, and saw many lives changed by Jesus. There’s so much I could write, so much to say…I will try to give a meager attempt at capturing a few of the precious moments that stilled my heart.
Tuesday – we went to City Union Mission’s Family Shelter. We watched as women, children, babies, and more entered the kitchen to gather for the service. I led them in singing praises to the Lord and as James and Johnny spoke to them about their lives having meaning, about them not being forgotten, about God having a purpose and a good plan for their lives…I saw streams of tears running down cheeks. I saw hopelessness turn to hope as women came forward to surrender their lives to Christ. I looked into their faces as those who came to Jesus gave me their names and others asked for prayer for the simplest things…an apartment, an education, to kick a smoking habit, for strength, for the Lord to bless her and her children. As we were packing up an older woman asked Johnny for prayer, she had spent three years in prison and had been living in her car until she ran out of food. She sold her car to buy food and once that ran out she came to the mission. She wept as Johnny prayed for her, James was touched and thought that could be my grandma. That could be someone’s grandma… I didn’t want to be intrusive but I wanted to capture Johnny praying with her.
Thursday – we had two services this day…our weekly service at KCRC and then an evening service at Moberly Correctional Center. At KCRC we are trying to help prepare these men to reenter society as strong Christian men sold out for Jesus Christ. They are afraid, afraid of failing, of not being strong enough. Johnny shared some of his story to offer them some hope that they could leave prison and not return if they leave surrendered to Jesus and walk closely with Him. He told them they had to put their relationship with Jesus above everything else. And then we sang “Anything” and the one line of the bridge gave them peace and hope – Let my faith overcome my fear. Lord, please strengthen their faith.
That night at Moberly, God moved and 16 men gave their lives to Christ, 16 souls saved from the clutches of the enemy and hell! Glory to God! We also took prayer requests and do you know what they pray for? The very things we should be praying for… for more faith and trust in the Lord, to stay focused on God’s purpose for their lives, for salvation for their families, for change.
Friday – Algoa Correctional Center. Tonight was a special night, we brought in a couple to talk to the men about marriage and relationships and how to have a Godly marriage and what they can do even inside the razorwire. It was very moving, many men came forward to pray with our guests over their marriages and relationships. And many men found salvation as well…15…I am in awe at what God allows us to be a part of and to witness. Only He can do this work, only He can move the hearts of men toward Him, and it’s only He that changes lives. What an honor to watch God transform lives before our very eyes.
At the end of services we always ask if anyone is going home so we can pray for them. Somehow along the way I got nominated to be the “going home prayer”…it’s a nomination I gladly accept. I always ask them if they know Jesus before I begin to pray, they won’t succeed on the outside without Him. Tonight we had two gentlemen, one that received Christ that night and another older gentleman that already knew the Lord but he was struggling and it broke my heart. I don’t usually cry in prison, I weep when praying for their requests at home but when I am there amongst them I rarely shed a tear..I don’t know why it’s just how it is, I think I simply treasure up every moment in my heart. But this man touched me, he was sobbing, he was afraid, he was afraid of facing the outside world, he was afraid of failing. I began to cry and then sucked it up so I could pray for them. In my prayer for them I reminded them that God will never leave them nor forsake them, that He keeps His promises and that He has a purpose and a plan for their lives and that He loves them. I hope they hold onto how much God loves them. Church, please wrap your arms around these who enter your doors, your communities. Hold them close, walk alongside them, encourage them, love them…please, please love them. And Lord, help their faith overcome their fear.
Sing for the King,
P.S. A friend told me recently to guard my heart…I’m not doing a very good job at this.
This week we had the honor to attend and participate in a memorial service for an offender who passed away recently at Jefferson City Correctional Center – a maximum security prison. Whatever this man’s crime, it led him to serve the rest of his life in prison. He was on hospice. Before we began doing prison ministry I had never really thought about what happens to inmates who serve life sentences and eventually die in prison or about offenders who become terminally ill before their release date. People live and die in prison in spite of our blindness to it. But we as followers of Jesus should know and should be doing something… “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” Hebrews 13:3
The gentleman who passed away was known as the “Candy Man”, I don’t know when he gave his life to Jesus but by the testimonies shared at his memorial service the Candy Man was sold out to Christ. He got his nickname because he would bring bags of butterscotch and cinnamon candy to the chapel services and give every man who attended a piece of candy. This may not seem like much of a thing to people outside the razor wire but on the inside…it’s an act of love. Who would spend their small amount of income on other offenders, not just once but repeatedly? A man who was changed by the Gospel, who found love and shared that love. We saw men mourn for the loss of their friend, their brother in Christ. Johnny had the privilege of knowing the Candy Man and shared that he was a great influence on his Christian walk and how to really live for Christ. We heard many stories of this man’s walk with Christ, he was an example to all who met him and knew him how to live for Jesus regardless of their circumstance.
Two days before this memorial service, our team led a worship service for City Union Mission’s homeless shelter for men. To be honest, it was a little outside our comfort zone…that sounds ironic because we go into prisons but nonetheless it still rings true. What do you say to the homeless? The same thing you say to anyone…you share the Gospel. You point them to the cross, to a Savior who died for them. You tell them that their is hope because of Jesus, that He promises a life more abundant. You speak truth into their hearts and pray they receive it. You tell them about a mighty, awesome creator that loves them and that regardless of where they are and regardless of their situation that it can be well with their soul because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. You say that God has a purpose and a plan for their lives. You point them to eternity and the temporariness of this life. And you know what else you do? You love them. You wrap your arms around them, no matter how they smell, and you tell them you love them and that Jesus loves them and that it’s OK to cry. We saw 13 broken, tearful men come to Christ last Sunday night. We saw hearts opened and lives changed…Glory to God.
Whether we lead prison services or services at shelters or even at churches, the same is true for all. The Gospel changes lives, Jesus is the answer to every problem and every situation. Our circumstances may be difficult in this life but this life is so temporary and life with Jesus is better…life with Jesus is best.
God is love. Love is sacrifice. God sacrificed His only Son for us because He loves us.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” John 3:16
Our team saw love in action through sacrifice this past Friday night. Our services on Friday nights are always full…we can only have 100 people in the chapel due to the fire code and on top of that, once every offender signs in, even if they left, we could not replace their name with another. Last Friday the chapel was full once again, the signup sheet was being passed around and was almost to the last couple of rows. A young man entered and James told him to hang on just a second, I think we are full. James counted and looked at the list and regretfully told the man he was sorry that there was no more room. Then…one of our regular attenders said, James, I’d like to give him my seat, I haven’t signed in yet. James told him he didn’t have to do that but he insisted that he wanted to. So, he left the chapel and Justin (the newcomer) took his place. To many people this may not seem like a big deal but when you are locked up and look forward to putting everything else aside and worship God with fellow believers…it’s a sacrifice to give it up. I think it’s difficult for us to even imagine having to give up attending church on Sunday due to overcrowding, it would be hard for me to do and I live outside the razorwire. We had a great service that night, 4 men came to receive Christ at the invitation…one of those men was Justin…we were humbled and overwhelmed and so grateful for God’s power and work in the chapel service and in the lives of the believers at this camp. We prayed a prayer of thanksgiving before leaving…but God wasn’t done yet, we stopped at Chick Fil A on the way home and a young lady, who we’ve talked to before, asked us if we went to prison tonight. We told her yes and she began asking us questions about heaven and God, we answered as best we could, we told her about God’s Word being truth and faith…another opportunity to share Him, this time outside the razorwire.
This story of love is not over yet…Sunday night we were at a different prison, a man that had been transferred from Algoa about a month ago was so excited to see us, he hadn’t been to one of our Algoa services in a few months because due to the overcrowding situation he wanted other man to be able to attend. Another seat given up to allow someone else a chance to hear the gospel. This night’s service was very powerful, 8 men came to know Jesus as Savior! One young man was leaving soon! A revival is breaking out in prisons! On the way home our ministry page received a message, a message about love…here it is:
Just want to say thank you so much Mrs. Christy, Mr. James and Mr. Johnny. On February 5, 2017 at BCC you changed my whole life around. Up until that moment I didn’t believe that there was anybody our there that cared for or loved me. I went to church that night with a whole lot of pain in my heart and feeling of worthlessness inside of me. From the first beautiful words of song from Mrs. Christy’s voice to the first words of Mr. James’ scripture I felt that I was loved and cared about and when Mr. Johnny told his testimonial that night of being in prison several times and finding God and realizing God ,as well as others like the Hoaglands, do care about us inmates and how his life was changed by that. At the end of the service, Mrs. Christy played a song that brought so many emotions to life inside that all I could do was cry. While this was going on Mr. James and Mr. Johnny said we could come forward and they would pray with us as well as for us. I went up there and knelt crying like a baby and asked God for forgiveness and welcomed him into my new life. Mr. Johnny came over and knelt down beside me and told me it was ok to cry, when I looked at him, he had tears in his eyes as well. Mr. Johnny put his hand on my shoulder and pray for me, something no one else had ever done and he did it from the heart…
This story goes on about how others loved him when he left prison just a couple months later. These encounters have nothing to do with us, we are just along for the ride, trying to follow Jesus in obedience and be used by Him as His instruments to share His Gospel. Please love someone today…share Jesus.
Swastika tattoos, life sentences, depression, addiction, brokenness, tears, repentance, forgiveness, new life…
In prison ministry we see this play out…questions, doubts, and more about a genuine change in an offender’s life. We witness the brokenness over their situation, over leaving their families behind, over their victims, over their sin. We see them struggle with doubt, with fear over falling, with being loved, with being accepted. But no matter the questions, the lack of courage, the unbelief…the answer is the same. The hope of the Gospel. The answer is Jesus.
And that’s what we bring them… in every service, every event, the name of Jesus is high and lifted up, proclaimed and exalted, offered…and sometimes received.
“Can God forgive this?” This was a question posed by a young man after a service at Maryville Correctional Center. He sat through the 2 hours of praise and worship, preaching, and testimony of a life changed in prison and still…he didn’t come forward to receive Christ at the invitation. What was holding him back? Doubt and fear that God would not accept or love or forgive a man like him. The Holy Spirit worked that day and many came to receive the free gift of salvation…but this man, unaware that the Holy Spirit was drawing him to repentance waited until most everyone had left and we were packing up our equipment. “Can God forgive this?” These were the words uttered from Adam, a man with swastika tattoos and more on his neck, arms, and who knows where else. James told Adam about Jesus, His sacrifice for ALL sins and led Adam to faith in Christ. He looked like a thousand pounds had been lifted off his shoulders and with tears in his eyes and his hands held out in front of him looked upward with genuine thankfulness. It was a sight to behold and one I will not forget. True repentance, followed with real freedom, and a praise given to our King for His sweet hope, for salvation.
We have encountered those who believe that most of what we do can only result in “jailhouse religion”. And if it was indeed “we” who did anything it would result in that. But God! But God does the work, in us, through us, and in the lives of these men that we have the privilege to share Him with. Can God forgive this? Well…He forgave you didn’t he? You are no better, I am no better, God is not a respecter of persons. Thank goodness for that.
Whether 8 men or 500, we are called to share the Gospel…even for one. It’s all worth it! Yesterday the Sing for the King ministry team had the great honor and privilege to minister at KCRC in Kansas City, MO. This is a reentry prison housing less than 250 men. We were invited to participate in a food event with eight men who have been faithful in attending chapel services in the past several months. Eight men wanting to live for Jesus. Eight men in a 16 x 18 room gathering to break bread together and worship Jesus – what a beautiful thing. It was humbling and such a blessing to be a part this special service.
These men will be leaving prison soon, in 15 months or less (most 6 months or less). They need the hope and power of Jesus in their lives to make it on the outside, they need encouraged, they need to be loved and feel loved.
One man will be going home after spending 29 years in prison…a lot of things have changed in the outside world, he is going to face difficulties and challenges. He needs support, he needs encouragement. He knows Jesus, pray for him. Pray for all these men who are going back into society, they need your help not your judgment, they need your love, not your distance. Come alongside them, lift them up in prayer, lend them a hand, teach them how to live for Jesus outside the razorwire.