I’ve been blessed these last two years to regularly go into the Auburn Correctional Facility most Tuesday nights to help with a Bible Study called Fully Alive. I serve with a great group of volunteers and during this time I’ve come to realize that this ministry is not at all about what we do for the guys, but everything about what we do with them. I generally take my guitar and help to lead the music during our opening praise and worship time. Often I select a song based on what had been shared in our opening prayers. These guys live at a raw level and their prayers are unlike what I hear at my church on the outside! They pray for themselves, for one another, and for their families on the outside – not many mention friends, who’ve largely deserted them. If we ask for prayers for a family or church member, they’re sure to ask the outcome a few weeks later. Frequently one or two of the men will ask to share a song and it is such a privilege to worship with them – the others listen attentively and respectfully, often beating in time to the music on their knee or the pews.
It’s been two weeks since I’ve been there – the last time was during a four day revival planned by the Protestant Chaplain. Volunteers were invited to attend each night, and Paul and I went on Sunday and heard a powerful message from a young man who just so happens to be the RA for Jason’s dorm at Wells College! Wow! On Tuesday, most of our regular volunteers were there, and two of us exchanged amused looks while the director of the inmate’s choir led the song, “This Little Light of Mine.” The choir uses that typical Black "call and repeat" style of music and while I don’t pretend to be able to do it myself – too much WASP in me – I do enjoy it. This time, Chris called out verses for the church to sing – replacing “Walk it around the neighborhood,” with “All around the yard, I'm going to let it shine!” and “In the mess hall, I'm going to let it shine!” While it struck me in a very funny way, at the same time, it was a strong witness to me.
The guys realize, on a very elementary level, that God has called them to a purpose even while living in a very dark place like a maximum security prison. Do I realize my calling on the same level as they do? It’s easy to be a Christian while doing good works like visiting prisoners. But do I let my light shine at my place of employment? Within my circle of friends and family? At my church? While out and about in my community?Certainly not as much as I could, not as consistently as I should.
Paul attended the closing night of the revival and I was surprised when he arrived home early. They had been told there was a disturbance going on in the yard, and the volunteers were hustled out through the chaplain’s office and back entrance instead of the typical walk through the side of the yard. The next day I had an email from the chaplain saying that due to extreme violence in the yard, the prison was in lock down and programs were cancelled for a week, not to resume until after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. My heart sank. We’d miss Bible Study with the guys the next week. They’d be in their cells 24/7, eating bag meals, and not participating in any programs or work. The COs would likely be searching cells for weapons, and tensions on all sides would be high. I wonder how sanity can be maintained in that atmosphere whether one is an inmate or a guard? I also thanked God that “our” guys had been safely inside the chapel during the disturbance, not out in the yard, where it’s all too easy to pulled into the violence.
So my blessing is being able to serve with these guys and learning with them how to let my light shine.
Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.”