The opportunity to meet with the inmates at the Story County Jail was presented to me by Pastor Toran. I was informed of this in November of last year, after I was ordained. Pastor Toran asked if it was something that I was interested in. I can’t recall a time when I have turned him down for something that he presented as a ministry opportunity, and I wasn’t inclined to start with this, but it wasn’t an opportunity I jumped at the idea of having. I’ll get to that later.
After I agreed he had me contact Pastor Knight at New Birth Baptist Church who would go on to inform me of everything this would entail. He let me know that I would be meeting with the inmates one Sunday each month. He also let me know that I would be leading three services with two groups of males and one group of females. He tried to give me some background information about what the services could look like and shared some of his experiences as well. I still wasn’t overjoyed at the opportunity, but I felt it would be good for the inmates, and for BCC, and I was sure God would not allow the experience to be without its own rewards for me also.
Pastor Knight passed along the application and I contacted Sgt. Belz who was in charge of reviewing my application as well as giving me an orientation, which included a tour of the facility. He showed me the different housing units as well as the kitchen, which earned me a cookie because we came through that area as some were being prepared. SCORE! The inmates that I meet with are in two areas where they are rewarded for their good behavior. Because it is a more open environment, less supervision is required. This is good for the inmates and these areas require fewer staff. He showed me the room that would be used for holding services as well. There were tables and chairs as well as bibles that could be used and several other materials for AA and other substance abuse programs. The room where the services are held, is also used by a counselor. She counsels inmates on ways to improve their decision-making when they are released, among other life skills. Sgt. Belz was very warm and welcoming and also asked a question that Pastor Knight asked, “Who will be coming with you?” I told him that it would be me for now and that we, BCC, were working toward having someone partner with me at some point in the future.
I didn’t really know what to expect during my first Sunday. I did recall Sgt. Belz pointing out to me where the cameras were located in the room and where the blind spot was. I was keenly aware of this, but I wasn’t expecting any disturbances to occur. When the prisoners were allowed to come in I introduced myself to them, which I would have them do later as well. I’m still learning to improve on learning and remembering names in all areas of my life. The message I had would probably look more like a bible study. I started with having us read through John 13 and 14 and I picked several verses from these chapters to underscore God’s love for us through Jesus Christ. I was really focused on sharing how Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins, knowing EVERYTHING about us. There is nothing that we have done or ever will do to separate us from this truth. There are generally 6-10 men in each group every time I have gone, with the exception of Resurrection Sunday, for obvious reasons.
The women’s group generally has about 5-8 attendees. One thing I noticed the first Sunday and subsequently each Sunday since is that I have really been able to connect with the women. As I have recounted this to a number of people I always share that the women are the last group I meet with and it might be that I have shared this word for two times prior and by the time I meet with the women, I’ve really gotten fired up and I know what I’m going to deliver. While this is true to a certain extent, I don’t think that’s all that is going on. Even in ministering the word, I have to be careful to listen to the Holy Spirit when I share what God has given me. Sometimes that means that something that was potentially powerful to one group may not translate as well to another. The other thing that I believe is God is developing in me a heart to minister to women. Had this been the only way this happened, I might have dismissed or just plain missed it. I had, however the opportunity to minister to two women on two separate occasions who showed up at BCC after Men’s Bible Study on Saturday. Both times this happened I immediately thought about whom I should call. We are taught, in this age, that men meet with and minister to men and women do likewise. This is sound practice and is set up to eliminate opportunities for compromise. But both times, I found myself in a situation where there were no women present. As I shared both experiences with Pastors Toran and Ana, I mentioned how this was my first instinct. Sometimes, God has a different purpose in mind. In both instances I listened to what their problems were and tried to leave them with scriptures that they could meditate on and know God’s love for them. I prayed with both and left pondering even more, “God what are you doing?” I don’t feel I have the full picture, but God has given me the experience(s) to piece together His revelation to me.
The last thing I will share is this: don’t wait to get all your ducks in a row to do what God is leading you to do. One thing I haven’t shared is how this experience has occurred during a time when I work most Saturday and Sunday nights. The beautiful thing about this experience is that since Pastor Toran knows my schedule, he gave me an “out” for not being in service on the third Sunday each month because of this opportunity. I’m not even sure if I would have taken it if he hadn’t suggested it. Even though I get to sleep in one Sunday each month, this experience didn’t come along at a time where I felt it would be particularly easy to do. I’ve had the opportunity to experience much of the joy as well as much of the sadness of walking beside and ministering to and with people. Weddings came alongside funerals alongside childbirths alongside divorces. I don’t regret one moment of any Never Ending Ministry Opportunity (Thanks Pastor Toran) I’ve had. Though many were joyous, many were also sad. It is, however through these experiences I came to understand and appreciate and love what God has called me to do. It didn’t happen on the sidelines, though. Whatever God is calling YOU to do, get your hands dirty and get in the arena.