Monday, December 20, 2010

Carols Behind Bars

Yesterday, I went with my friend Bob to do Prison Ministry.  I have a lot of respect for Bob.  He's a rancher and works hard.  He is very involved in the community.  He does a lot of things behind the scenes of which people aren't normally aware.  He also does Prison Ministry.

Last Sunday, Bob asked me if I would bring my guitar and go with him for Prison Ministry the following week.  He wanted to do some Christmas Carols for his group.  I went.

I had been to Prison Ministry with Bob before, but, not to sing.  He had previously tried to recruit me to be a part of the Prison Ministry group to which he belongs.  I didn't feel that it was something God was calling me to do.  So, I had not been back.

That first visit, several years ago, was very rewarding.  The inmates who came to the brief Bible study were very appreciative.  They also shared their prayer requests.  Some of them were heart-wrenching.

This time the format was a little different.  We started off with me playing the guitar and leading them in singing "Jingle Bells."  Interesting.  Some of these guys were pretty hard cases.  Some were in on drug or alcohol related issues.  I don't really know and it's not something that you can ask.  But, to see this dozen plus guys in their stripes and tattoos singing "Jingle Bells" was something.  They were a little tentative, but, almost all of them joined in.

Bob led them in a lesson about the Christmas story as related both in Luke and Matthew.  He didn't pull any punches with them.  He pointed out that Mary's "crime" of being pregnant out of wedlock made her an outcast.  It also was something that was punishable by death in her culture.  But, Joseph stepped up and handled it like a man.  He did the right thing.  He encouraged them to be man enough to "do the right thing."  He told them that they could bring cheer to their families at home by how they handled being locked up behind bars.  He also encouraged them that when they got out, they could change.

Bob does a great job telling these guys like it is.  They seem to respond well to him.  You could see them visibly relax and open up to the message.  Oh, there were a couple that weren't as open, but, you could tell they were listening attentively.

One individual in particular caught my attention.  He sat at the back of the group -- as far away as he could.  He seemed to have a scowl on his face and he kept his arms crossed in a guarded position.  He didn't smile.  He just stared intently at the floor.

When Bob finished the lesson he had me lead them in "Away in a Manger."  Think about the words to the song.  It's about a baby -- "the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay."  Those big old rough guys sang.  They sang from their heart.  There were a few embarassed grins around the table but, they sang.  All but one -- the one who sat at the back of the room.

We then sang "Joy to the World."  They sang even louder.  There in that prison -- Paul and Silas come to mind -- they sang.

Some of the prisoners who had not joined the group for Bible study were in the "commons" area adjacent to the room in which we met.  You could see some of them looking through the glass at this group of guys singing Christmas carols.  Some of them were puzzled.  Some looked as though they wished they had joined in.  Some turned away.

Then Bob prayed.  He prayed that they would find peace this Christmas season.  He prayed for their families.  He prayed that they would know Jesus as their Savior.  Finally, we sang "Silent Night."

"Silent night, Holy night,
All is calm, all is bright.
'Round yon virgin mother and child;
Holy infant so tender and mild;
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace."

There was a lot of emotion on the faces of those guys -- even a few glistening eyes -- and not just the inmates.  It was a very special moment.

All but one of them came up to me afterward and expressed their appreciation for the music.  All but one of them had a smile on his face.  All but one of them had experienced a brief moment beyond the bars.

But, you're wrong.  It wasn't the one who sat at the back with his arms folded, staring at the floor, that missed the joy of the moment.  He was the first one up.  He came to me and hugged me with tears in his eyes.  It kinda made mine glisten a bit.  No, it was one that I hadn't been able to see from where I sat.  Bob mentioned him as we walked out.  He said that he thought he was a new arrival -- still a little strung out on something.  He probably missed the whole thing.  Maybe his buddies in that room will get him headed in the right direction.

Jesus can reach right through the bars of that prison.  He can also reach through the bars of a hardened heart.  He's knocking at the door even now.

Revelation 3:19-20 (New International Version, ©2010)

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.


i beati said...

special gifts Bob and you have sandy

Dee Andrews said...

You've made MY eyes glisten, Chris.

That was wonderful of you to go and let God use you that way!! Truly!

Hope you have a blessed Christmas!