July 14, 2011
Thursday, 4:00 p.m.
Letter #182: Discipling as a Ministry Operation
Our first all-unit Bible Study on Sunday evening was a success! With 19 guys in an empty multi-purpose room (and three crickets, located behind me, which I kept a watchful eye on the whole time), we still have room for a half-dozen other guys (and a few less crickets, hopefully). The staff was very accommodating of us and the study was uninterrupted and quiet. You could hear crickets chirping. Unfortunately.
The main chaplain here is very careful about who leads, teaches, or has responsibilities in the church, so only those who have gone through his leadership training class are eligible. Since I was one of the four main elders at Florence, Chaplain Lungu from Florence gave his personal recommendation of us, so we could immediately help facilitate services here. I get to lead worship for our unit study times—just a sweet, intimate time of devotion—but my real excitement is for our combined church services, only one day a week for now, in the chapel. A guitarist with a servant’s heart, Rich, and I were asked to develop the worship portion of the services, just as I did in Florence, Soledad, and Salinas.
The change here from Florence is that I get to direct a choir again, with a practice schedule and everything! I really believe this is a gifting I need to utilize, and I enjoy helping guys develop their music skills. As you know, my great passion in the church is discipleship. Having noted that, especially in prison churches, guys become entrenched in their ministry “positions,” my goal is to train and equip the next leaders while providing them a safe place to practice.
In my small group, for example, I have four to five guys who know that God has called them into ministry. Some missionaries, some evangelists, some in music. It would be irresponsible of me to hog all of the “fun” aspects of the music ministry here, by insisting on perfection in our services and keeping the jobs given to me all for myself. Irresponsible because each of these guys will be on their own someday, maybe in a small church in Mexico, a rescue mission in Sacramento, or elsewhere. I want them to be confident, well-prepared and practiced leaders by the time they leave this place. Gratefully, not only Rich, but the church’s eldership and chaplain back me on this.
I’ve heard recently that the guys I developed in Soledad are still leading worship there, and I’m sure that the many who I had lead in Florence are using their giftings in the various chapels they’ve spread out to, as well. Discipleship as a ministry operation.
Lots of guys in this pod encouraged me to run for Men’s Advising Council (MAC) Representative, the work I’d done for them in Florence being a key factor. I planned to run, then found out my old cellie, Justin, wanted the job and would be running, so I decided to not split the vote and dropped my name from the ballot while persuading my supporters to vote for him. He won, and I’ll just assist him in his responsibilities. It is my kind of job—petitioning for our “rights” in a diplomatic way and interfacing with prison leaderships—but I felt it was most important that at least one of us win.
In his first meeting today, the unit staff were excited about our ideas to help the guys be rehabilitated—something California seems to neglect. We’ve suggested hosting classes in business, entrepreneurship, finances, and character, plus several other big ventures in music and art. I figure that nearly anything would be better than the currently mundane mixture of meal, yard, shower, meal, dominoes, meal, TV, sleep that most guys consider a “normal” day. Some have never held a job; some have never held a cellphone, it has been so long since they had a job. Most here will parole within the next one to seven years, woefully unprepared to meet the requirements of being a contributing member of society. I see plenty of opportunity: please pray for wisdom in carrying out an effective plan.
A man in my pod, Gabriel, whom I’d never met, approached me this week and asked me what church services I attend and if we have prayer requests we pray for. I assured him that, as Bible-believing Christians, we do believe in and actively engage in prayer, after which statement he asked me to please pray for his wife Aiesha—for her health and finances. I told him that we would keep her on the prayer list for 30 days … so he should let me know after that point if he still wanted us to pray for her. Well, he took that comment with a whole lot more faith than I had intended. “Great!” He beamed. “I’ll look forward to seeing what happens to her in the next 30 days!” So, the stakes have been set for God to do a miracle. I’m praying, soon!