I didn’t know what to expect. I just knew that I’ve always loved women’s ministry and to be used of the Lord to share God’s truth and speak about the great love and redemption in Jesus Christ. When I learned of the opportunity to go with CHARM ministries and visit a women’s prison, I jumped at the chance. I knew it was from the Lord.
I remember walking through the gates of the prison, wondering how it must feel to know you are physically bound to a place. Going through that last door and hearing the sound of it slamming shut. Thinking how it must also seem like any hope must be shut out as well. What would the women be like? What do I say to them? How could I relate?
As these questions were going through my mind, I remembered what we have to offer anyone, whatever the circumstances are. We offer them the Lord Jesus Christ, The One who came to set the captives free. The glorious redeemer who gives sight to the blind, and can raise the dead. This is what I witnessed that beautiful warm sunny Saturday with the women. I witnessed the grace of Jesus Christ and the truth that there is no situation, no circumstance, no sin that is beyond His forgiveness, or beyond His power to redeem.
You see, as we approached the courtyard, it was unexpected what I saw next, what I heard next. I heard the sound of laughter and joy. They greeted us with shouts of excitement. They welcomed us as you do with a friend you were anticipating to see. And right there for several hours, we played volleyball, we laughed together, we worshipped God together, and we sat at His feet as we broke open God’s word and learned together.
DJ is as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. He can’t stand still. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other and occasionally goes through the motions of shooting a jump shot with an imaginary basketball. Along with two other men, he waits nervously between two locked fences ringed with razor wire.
These three men are dressed in white from head to toe, including their tennis shoes. They carry all of their limited belongings in a white laundry bag that serves as both suitcase and library. Book-shaped images stretch the sides of the bags and test the strength of the fabric as well as the men who carry them.
I don’t know the other two men personally although I have seen them occasionally at this state prison outside of Houston. DJ, however, has become my friend over the last eight months as we entered into and developed a mentoring relationship. It was a privilege to play a small role in the last few preparatory steps for his release after 18 years of incarceration. Contrary to the oft-repeated maxim that our prisons are full of “innocent” men, DJ readily admits he was arrested in the midst of a blossoming life of crime as a young 20 year-old gang member on the inner city streets of Dallas.
We were blessed to receive a letter from both a volunteer and inmate for the same event. The October 16, 2010 Basketball at Darrington Unit.
The first letter is from Chad Chambers, a CHARM volunteer...
Romans 12:1 states, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” These are the words Malcolm Marshall turned to as he called the men gathered in the Chapel at Darrington Unit to give their lives to completely to Christ – to follow whole-heartedly the gospel of Christ no matter their individual circumstances. Yet, it was more than simply a message to the men of Darrington, these words encapsulate a day enveloped by the presence of God’s Spirit.
The morning started early. Each of the men gathered in the parking lot of Houston’s First Baptist Church before 7:00 am had chosen to spend this Saturday away from their families, their jobs, and their normal routines. But, a sense of anticipation, not obligation, could be felt as we chatted, stretched and drank coffee in the parking lot. The feeling continued as we made the drive out to the unit, never a dull journey for those riding with Dave, and went through the security checkpoints to enter the unit’s parking lot.
With all the gear collected and checked in with the guards, it was time to enter the prison unit. This is a very different experience for each of the men present. For myself, a relative new-comer to prison ministry, it is an anxious moment not being sure what awaits on the other side. And for others in the group, it is an anxious moment because they know all to well what awaits on the other side having spent weeks, months, and years calling this unit “home”. For each man, though the anxiousness is worth the reward of this day in Darrington.