August 2, 2015
Sunday 10:00 a.m.
Letter #394: Serving Where Needed
Recently, God has allowed me to take a very interesting next step in serving Him with the musical gifts He gave me. Before I bring you the latest in this ever-changing journey, let me refresh your memory or bring you up-to-date on my journey thus far.
Seven and a half years ago, when I first went to prison, I was at a so-called “reception center” in Delano, California, for three months. I got to go to church only a few times, but I got to play an old upright piano they had in the small room full of massive wooden pews. Then, off to Salinas Valley State Prison for a year-plus, where I got to play piano for the church services and help lead the choir. I worked with an a capella group on the yard and put together an eventual yard concert that got stopped after our first song, due to a fight on the yard.
I was transferred next door to Soledad’s California Training Facility for nine months, where I led a yard Bible Study of twenty guys and got to lead worship during the two weekly church services. We had a choir, full band, and a real piano for a church that seated over 120 guys. A big privilege there was playing along with several traveling bands who came to minister to us and asked me to join them.
Next came the long bus ride out to Florence Correctional Center in Arizona, where I was housed for nine months. At first, the guys in the church put up a bunch of red tape for any of us new guys to join and serve with them. Eventually, the chaplain figured out what they were doing and chose five men as a leadership team, of which I was a part. I began leading worship, and it was there that Sister Peggy first joined our church services as a volunteer, singing with the choir.
I was then transferred here to La Palma Correctional Center over four years ago. I soon became active with the same group of guys in the chapel. They kept the other four leaders from Florence as “overseers” and gave me the job as choir director instead. I joked that I’d been taken from the top and given the bottom rung, but I was grateful to serve in my area of interest and ability.
I worked with the choir, playing keyboard for the church services and leading worship for a year and a half. Every week, I’d rotate a choir member in as the worship leader, training each one to be prepared. When the leadership of the chapel (inmates) became aware that I was associating with “Messianic Jews” (Christians who also celebrate our faith’s Jewish heritage), they tried to claim the Messianics are not true believers, to which I strongly disagreed. The head overseer at that time, a converted gang leader, told me I must either cease associating with these “non-believers,” or give up leading worship. I immediately stepped down, though I told no one in the congregation why I’d done so, in order to maintain unity. I also began faithfully attending the Messianic church services to stand with them in silent protest, obeying the admonition of Scripture to not forsake assembling with fellow believers.
During the week, I worked with their musicians to prepare them to lead worship in the services, and during another day, I met separately with guys of all faiths who enjoy singing in order to form a performance choir. Sister Peggy, who had also dropped out of the church worship team, joined me in this effort.
Now, a couple of years later, I’m still working with that choir, and I offered to help train this compound’s church choir. I explained the entire history to this church leadership, and though they seemed welcoming, I was told that the choir members aren’t good singers, so they’ll never be able to sing harmonies. No problem, I told them and opted to attend the regular Christian services again, since the church on this new compound I moved to eight months ago doesn’t create a division regarding the Messianics.
Many of the church musicians and leadership are close friends of mine, and I teach piano to three of the musicians. The musicians are great, but most of the choir doesn’t even sing on pitch. Recently, a small group of guys asked me to help them learn a song they planned to sing for the church. I agreed to help, but when I found out that most were choir members, I met with various members of the church leadership to see if they would approve of my help. I didn’t want to sneak my way back in, and I made clear that I have no desire to be up front on Sundays, whether playing piano, leading worship, or even singing in the choir. I just hoped to help increase the musicality of the choir, helping each guy to be at his very best for the Lord.
Gratefully, the men in leadership for the church really understood my heart and have welcomed the assistance. I procured a couple of days on the schedule in a couple of the rooms here, and now I’ve been working with the church choir and instrumentalists, a great joy to me.
I share this because God has done a work in my heart to bring me to this point, where I know He wants me: behind-the-scenes, serving and supporting, and all for His glory.
Thank you for encouraging me!