There are no words to begin to describe our experience on Sunday at a Maximum Security Prison but I will try to convey what I can. Unlike the prison we had visited the day before, security here was tight. Once all documents were inspected and permission granted for us to proceed, we made our way through one locked steel door after another until we arrived on the inside. The first thing that hit me was the smell. It was a strong mixture of dirt, sweat, body odor and sewage. As we continued inward, I saw mud and filth and realized as I stepped over the ditch that was flowing through the center of the compound, that I had just stepped over raw sewage.
Keep focused, keep walking, keep calm, keep looking straight ahead…then I heard it! One of the most beautiful things I had ever heard perhaps in part due to the contrast of all the filth I was seeing. It was the sound of hundreds of men and teenage boys singing songs of worship to Our God.
As we turned the corner, not only could I hear their voices but I could see their faces. One after another, sitting 20 wide, shoulder to shoulder and over 50 deep packed in like sardines not to mention the tiers of more inmates sitting outside the pavilion and standing all around. Each was anxious to be a part of the morning worship service. Needless to say, God had “opened the door wide” (1 Cor. 16:9) for us to share His Word, and He was asking us to boldly and confidently step inside.
We immediately joined them as we all lifted our voices as one in worship to Our Lord. Next, two nicely dressed men were ushered to the front of the assembly. I assumed they were visitors from outside the prison, but later learned that they were two prisoners who were being commissioned to lead the church that had formed inside the prison walls. I was amazed that as the two men were asked to kneel to be prayed over, two other inmates took off their flip-flops and gave them so that the men would not have to kneel on the hard concrete. As the prayers for these two servants of God were lifted up in a language I could not understand, I opened my eyes to see the tear stains on the concrete of one who was so humbled at the opportunity to serve that he wept through the entire prayer.
Next a young boy was escorted to the front. It was told that he was an orphan with not a family member in this world, who had been at the prison for 10 years but who would soon be released. I thought to myself, “Released to what, to who, how?” Then I watched as a small cardboard box was placed at the front of the of the service and inmates were asked to sacrifice something of their own to give to this young boy, to help him start a new life outside the walls of what had become his home and family. First, a loaf of bread was given, then a roll of toilet paper, then a few coins which made this the most sacrificial giving I had ever seen. It still makes me want to cry to think of being released out into the world with only a loaf of bread, a roll of toilet paper and a few coins. What are his chances?
Next, a member of our team gave the message as every white eye in a sea of dark faces looked on and listened intently as if they were hanging on every word. In the end, seven young inmates, including one elderly crippled man, came forward to give their life to The Lord to follow Him in all the days of their life including the dark days behind the steel walls. But it was behind those steel walls that I saw beautiful worship that I will never be able to find the words to fully describe, sacrificial giving that I will never be able to find the words to fully describe, complete humble surrender in service to God that I will never be able to find the words to fully describe, beautiful light in spite of it being such a dark place that I will never be able to find the words to fully describe and a memory that has touched my soul in a way that there will NEVER be words to describe.