IT’S OKAY TO CRY

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.

Sing for the King,

Christy

WHAT LOVE LOOKS LIKE

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.

Sing for the King,

Christy

CAN GOD FORGIVE THIS?

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.

Sing for the King,

Christy

WHETHER 8 OR 500…

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.

Sing for the King,

Christy