Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #353: Ministry and Other Fun Stuff
Recently, I was asked by a Christian guy in my pod if I’d like to help out with an outreach the Christians were planning. I would need to pitch in a few food items so they could give out burritos to some of the guys who don’t attend any religious services. I quickly agreed and made sure to get all the details for the event.
I’d helped with a similar one in the past, so I liked the concept, and I expected most of the church-going Christians in the pod to contribute as well. In fact, I was surprised to be asked at all, since the guys who are elders and deacons in the church have increasingly distanced themselves from me, once my involvement leading the Messianic worship services has become known. A few have been openly critical of me, while those who know me well still support me, even if they don’t fully understand my ministry methods.
Though I was only one of four guys who contributed, we gave out forty burritos to guys in our pod. It was a nice gesture, but not as effective as I like to see.
For example, I recently played piano for a friend of mine who sang in the Mormon chapel service. Everyone there appreciated it, and during the fellowship time afterwards, I got a chance to speak with a guy who has been attending for years.
Thanks to a good friend of mine who came out of Mormonism, I knew what questions to ask, and by the end of our conversation, he’d realized how misled and misguided he’d been. Now he’s attending worship services with me and practices with the Messianic worship team.
This method of winning people to Christ is not new—it’s just a version of Friendship Evangelism—but it is just as controversial as ever. While they quote “Come out from among them and be ye separate,” I quote “Go ye, therefore, into ALL the world … to make disciples.” I would never go to a Mormon temple to witness to their members, but this prison dynamic is quite different from what is currently done outside these walls, and I must make the most of every opportunity I have.
Another unorthodox witnessing tactic I utilized this month was surprising a friend of Duffy, my cellie, with a birthday party of sorts. Duffy and I planned the whole thing and invited a couple of guys to join us at a table in the dayroom the day of Tim’s birthday.
The main event was playing my Risk board game. (While being transferred from a prison I was at in California, I saw the game in the used books pile, freshly discarded and scooped it up. Knowing how rare it is in prison, I’ve kept it with me for the past four years.)
Tim, we found out, is a huge fan of the game and soundly beat all of us in his quest for global domination. Or, as I would like it to be remembered, I let him win.
For lunch, we brought out thirty grilled cheese sandwiches I’d freshly made in the six-days-a-week grilled sandwich factory Duffy and I run from our cell. (My favorite: grilled peanut butter and jelly mixed with chocolate pudding filling inside cinnamon-sugar toast. They sell faster than I can make them for a dollar each. My life has come to this.)
We made ice tea flavored and sweetened with prison-issued Kool-Aid packets, and for dessert, Duffy made what looked like miniature cupcakes that spelled out “TIM,” made from sandwich cookies frosted with Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread and covered in M&M’s. You don’t even want to know how good those were.
But we weren’t finished. I’d purchased several handicraft items to sell online, including little ships crafted from rolled-up catalog pages glued together and painted with coffee. Well, one guy wanted me to buy the ship he’d made for $30. It was so horrible, with no rudder, and sails facing backwards that I just had to have it as a visual metaphor of my life. I paid him $5; that ship has sat on my table for months, waiting for this moment. I cut a whole piece off the back of the ship and stuffed the hold and the cabin with miniature chocolate bars. Then, we invited Tim up to our cell during an hourly unlock and presented him with the hideous creation. He said he loved it, but I told him it was not for him to keep, but was a reverse piñata.
With much encouragement, Tim raised the fated ship above his head and slammed it to the floor of our cell, shattering it into dozens of pieces on the cold concrete slab. (In that moment, it was a visual metaphor of my prideful life shattered, on my knees, in the same spot, years earlier.)
Chocolate and shipwreck everywhere, Tim just could not believe what had just happened. He told us later that it was the best birthday he’d ever had. Since then, Tm has agreed to begin attending church services with Duffy and me, and even came to choir with us.
I’ve been meeting with Boy regularly, helping him restore his relationship with his estranged wife. He’s had so few positive relationships in his life, that he responds in immature ways, afraid to be hurt again by rejection. Though he asks for my help forming letters to his wife, what he really wants is counseling and friendship. He has been open with me about his ongoing struggles with addictions, fueled by depression and anxiety and enabled by parents who send him money every week. Unfortunately, it is nearly as easy to get drugs here as it is outside, and those who want it know where to get it. Gratefully, Boy wants me to help him kick his habit, so I’m learning to help, something new for me.
Thank you for your prayers for those who God is drawing to Himself.