February 21, 2016
Sunday, 4:00 p.m.
Letter #423: Gift of Music
Many years ago, friends of our family went through a time of terrible tragedy, their lives shattered in an instant. What most would see as a natural time of grieving, this family chose instead to use as an opportunity to share with the world about the power of God to forgive and heal. As a result, hundreds of people came to know Christ as their Savior.
A song I wrote at the time was used by our friends to minister as they shared their story with others, and our families have continued to stay close through these many years. Recently, they reached out to me and expressed a desire to help with my ministry in prison and asked what was needed. It was just before Christmas this past year, and I’d been asking God to bless the music program here, so I said that anything they’d like to donate would be much appreciated.
Just hearing that someone would like to bless prisoners affects me differently than it ever did prior to my incarceration. I now have, you can say, a bit of a “connection” with prisoners, and thus I feel the needs, I feel the opportunity to bless now more than ever before. I’ve seen how a toothbrush can change the life of an Indian orphan during a mission trip there. I’ve seen how a computer can change the lives of men at a drug clinic in Mexico during a mission trip there. And now, on a mission trip of sorts, I see how a simple keyboard unlocks a love of learning, a sense of purpose, a hidden talent to be proud of, and even a future job skill. Yet I still don’t consider what I’m doing a “ministry.”
The difference between past mission trips and this one, if you will, is that I’m the orphan, I’m the guy at the drug clinic, I’m the old guy being sung to in a nursing home. I’m not just here to minister. I need to get help myself. I need to let God work in me and not just through me as I used to do. Oh, how much easier it is to bring kindness to those in need than to receive the same kindness for myself! I don’t like to be needy, to be the one receiving, the one who doesn’t have and who can’t do for himself. This having nothing and no way of producing anything is a difficult learning and growing time for me as God works to make sure I rely on and look to Him only.
It is difficult for me to hear, therefore, that anyone considers the normal course of my life a ministry of any kind. What is normal for every believer, to be joyful in every circumstance and to spread God’s love to the world, should not be somehow different for me, especially since my circumstances were brought about solely as a result of my own choices. In fact, for me not to rejoice in my Savior would be a slap in the face of Almighty God, Who has blessed me abundantly beyond all I could hope or think. To not acknowledge His work on my behalf and His work in my life would be a profound ignorance and require a case of spiritual blindness or arrogance, neither of which do I ever care to possess.
Well, ministry or not, very kindhearted and generous friends of mine certainly have a ministry of their own, and the chapels and music program here at La Palma Correctional Center just became this incredible family’s latest recipient of blessing. Working with my twin brother Michael’s church, they gave me $1,000 to spend any way I’d like. Unfortunately, helicopter rides from the prison yard were not available for any less than $1,500, so I decided to spend it on musical instruments and sound equipment instead.
Let me tell you, there is no shopping trip quite as exhilarating as the one where you get to spend someone else’s money. Can I get an “Amen?” And there is nothing like seeing the direct-answers-to-prayers blessings of God pass through your hands to those it is intended for. A year ago, I’d made a list of all the equipment the prison chapel on our compound needed in order to effectively utilize the space and reduce distractions during worship services. I also met with the head chaplain to find out what items may be needed for the prison’s other two compounds’ chapels. Now with the resources to make that dream list a reality, I went through a music equipment vendor’s catalog and carefully made up a list. Then, with the leftover amount, I made selections of equipment for the music program as well. Then, I called the company and spoke to several sales people to get the order placed, telling each one what the equipment would be used for. The final sales guy was so moved by the story of the donation and the men who would benefit by it that he gave an additional $100 worth of equipment to me. God is good!
You should have seen my face as I got to finally unpack box after box of microphones, stands, long cables, tambourines, egg shakers, Cajón box drums for each chapel and one for the music program, special jazz drum sticks, dozens of guitar strings for inmates too poor to afford their own, a cow bell (you can never have too much cow bell), other percussion instruments, and even a beautiful 88-key keyboard for the chapel with a carrying case. The church team of inmates and music program guys were overwhelmed as we all noticed the immediate benefit to every service, every band rehearsal, a real testimony of how God continues to use the painful parts of life to make us even more tender toward the needs of others. Thank you, Jesus!