March 15, 2012
Thursday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #216: Ministries and Mission Fields
I’ve had an exciting week! My mom came for visits over the weekend: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The visit schedule just changed, and visiting time is now on Sunday mornings, so I have to choose between church and visiting. So far, I’m the only keyboardist we have, so the music time of praise and worship suffers if I’m not there. (We have a nervous guitarist and several other budding musicians I am working with, but I’m it, so far.)
My parents are approved to visit Phillip, so he fills in for me at visit while I’m at church. Phillip is the only inmate I have ever wanted my family to visit instead of me. We’ve developed a close bond of friendship, and I’m grateful to God for his enthusiastic love of God’s Word and his passion to do what is right.
While at visit, I got to see my mom’s amazing ministry with the other families in the visiting room. She hears the stories of loved ones separated, of lives changed, and of families all trying to make the best of a difficult situation. Often, I hear from an inmate that my praying, crying, sweet mother has blessed his wife or mother with her kind words and empathy.
On many occasions, my mom and my dad will bring with them other inmates’ family members who wouldn’t be able to drive the long distance by themselves. This weekend, my mom picked up a wife and mom from the Phoenix airport so they could visit their husband and son for the first time in four years. I loved seeing the tearful reunion, made even sweeter for me by the fact that I have known the man they were coming to visit, Benji, for more than three years.
My mother wisely used the time with his wife to encourage her to keep making good choices for her little daughter. Benji, who lives in my pod housing unit (and takes guitar lessons from me), has not stopped telling me about the huge impact my mom had on his family and how grateful he is for her. I love my family!
Yesterday, after choir practice, I was asked to meet with the other leaders in the chapel about something. I figured it was something serious by the looks on the others’ faces and their somber tone.
My suspicions were confirmed as Scripture was read to begin the meeting and our church secretary began taking notes. A note on church secretaries: Ours is fairly bad-ass. After a life of shooting people and stabbing people, then being a mainline prison “shot-caller” (placing hits on other inmates and people on the streets), he came to Christ and was so hated and rejected for it that there were attempts made to kill him and he had to be placed in “the hole” in isolation for three years for his own protection.
During that time, he studied the Word and then was finally able to transfer to our Sensitive Needs Yard prison. Does your church secretary have “LA” tattooed on top of her head? Ours does.
As the meeting opened, I was asked about why I play piano for the Catholic services, something I’d been asked about a few months ago. I again explained how the chaplains at my previous facility in Florence and at this one had asked me to please help out the Catholic services once a week by playing the keyboard. I’d agreed, providing I could choose the songs and as long as I didn’t have to participate in any other way.
I’ve been leading songs from the worship booklet I’ve helped put together for our Christian services. Then, while the services go on, I sit quietly and read my Bible until the closing song. Everyone has enjoyed it, and I leave before the beginning of the second half of their service, in which a lady teaches which of the saints are better listeners, how to effectively pray for the dead, etc.
Well, I was informed that several new believers from our church services have questioned why I’m in both of the religious services (the windows of the chapel allow guys who are attending school classes to observe me). I said to the gathered leaders who brought this concern that I’d been in the Catholic services only as a help and that I had known from the beginning that I would quit if it ever caused another brother to stumble in his faith.
The other leaders, it turns out, had been discussing this issue for the past several weeks, praying about how to approach me (!) since they can’t legally ask me not to attend another church service. Relief and stunned silence followed, and then they all thanked me for “making it easy” for them.
Hmmm … isn’t it true that we often make things more difficult than they need to be instead of simply approaching someone right away? I’m not that scary, I don’t think, although I’m thinking about the San Antonio Spurs’ logo on top of my head … on a hat.