Teaching at Kirkland prison has been surprising in the best possible way...
The first day I walked the yard at Kirkland Penitentiary, I was jittery. Going through security, being questioned as to where I was headed, being buzzed through multiple heavy metal doors, and walking the prison yard avoiding eye contact with crowds of tan-clad inmates made my palms sweat and my heart beat faster. Prison scenes in movies flashed through my mind, and I was relieved to make it to the library where I would be teaching English as a Foreign Language.
Meeting the men I would teach was a surprising experience. Where were the hardened criminals I had been anticipating? The students were calm, respectful, grateful, even cheerful. Though shy at first, they greeted me in broken English and thanked me when I left.
The ice was broken when we did our first skit. Somehow, standing up and acting opened the floodgates of hilarity and brought gales of laughter and a permanent sense of friendship and warmth to the group. After that week, stories began to flow in the in-between times -- each student shared openly in a blend of Spanish and English about their former lives and about how God had radically changed them. Even the worst of crimes are no match for the precious cleansing blood of Christ!
When Pedro, a former drug-lord, was arrested, he heard God speaking to him: "Look up!" As they put the handcuffs on his wrists, he looked up and knew that God was there and was calling him to a different life. He began reading his Bible and now is a regular preacher in the Hispanic dorms on weekends. He actively disciples younger Hispanic inmates like Javier, who goes along with him during his preaching to serve as his assistant -- a Paul and Timothy set-up.
Javier was a self-admitted terror when he was first incarcerated. He was angry and frequently got involved in fights. As a punishment, he was moved to a dorm where he was the only Hispanic, which was intensely difficult because he spoke very little English. He was completely isolated, and the only Spanish he had access to was a Spanish Bible someone had given him. He started reading, and it changed his life. "I started praying," he says. "I told God, 'I don't want to live like this anymore. I don't know how to change. Will you change me? I want to live a new life.’" Providentially, he was transferred to another prison almost immediately after his conversion, where he met Pedro, his mentor and father in the faith.
The men share earnestly that being arrested, being in this prison, has literally saved them from themselves. "Before I was arrested, I drank, I smoked, I did drugs, I partied," one says. "I didn't eat well, I didn't sleep well. Now, in prison, I don't do any of those things but I eat well and I sleep well. I learn things. I work. It is good for me."
Activity of any kind is a blessed relief. Each student has a job somewhere in the prison – in the commissary, in the cafeteria, in the laundry room, in the infirmary. One has lost 140 pounds by working out diligently doing “esquats.” Another copies down entries from the English dictionary and breaks out his notebook whenever he can to ask me analytical questions regarding word usage. Two others are chess buddies.
"Thinking too much is not good," they agree. "Thinking about your family, about the past -- it's too stressful and it doesn't do any good. It's better to work and to learn. It makes the time go by." Hearing this helps me to understand why the students enjoy English class so much, even though I nitpick their pronunciation -- "school, not eschool" -- and make them do brain-cramping conjugations that make them sigh "Ay ay ay." Learning something new means forgetting what lies behind -- if only for a moment.
And learn they have. Mario, now an advanced English student with a natural ease of expression, proudly shared with me, "Before I was arrested, I knew no English. All the English I have learned has been in prison." This same story is repeated in several conversations I have after class in the moments before the guards clear the men to return to their dorms. Many lived and worked in 100% Hispanic communities, having no contact with English speakers and no opportunity to learn. Prison has opened doors of communication for them, and several now interact confidently with Americans. Others are still struggling through irregular verb conjugations and the twists and turns of umpteen synonyms all saying the very same thing -- but they are on their way.
Yes, they are on their way. These men represent to me the very best of what can happen in a prison. They are changed, reformed -- no, transformed. And yet it has not primarily been through a program or a service offered by the prison. It has been the Word of God alive and active in the prison, just as it is everywhere. More than modifying their behavior of these former criminals, the Spirit of God has changed these men from the inside out. Their faces now radiate the joy and peace that can only come from Him. "Physically, I am chained," says Pedro, "But in my heart I am free. That is true freedom."
Amen. "...If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).
Written by: Jessie Udall
No matter where you may be on your spiritual journey, we all wake up each day in need of a reminder of how great God is. In a recent post on the Desiring God blog, Matt Reagan, talks about his personal need of daily reminders. Reagan writes, "Somehow during the night I’ve forgotten the big realities about God and the universe and myself and the gospel. I desperately need to steady myself with biblical truth rather than stumbling forward to live from unbelief."
In his post he lists 10 truths about our Creator God. Here are the first two:
1) God exists. (Exodus 3:14; John 8:58)
It seems so simple, so basic, but I tend to wake up a naturalist, and a narcissistic one at that. I assume that all there is in the world is what is in front of my face. My bed, my wife, my kids, and most importantly myself. The simple yet ultimate existence of God immediately clears my lens, makes me small, and infuses meaning into every step. God exists — and that changes everything.
2) God loves you. (Romans 5:8; John 16:27; Jeremiah 32:40–41)
Another massive biblical reality, this immediately counters my hesitation to embrace God’s ultimate authority, reminding me that he has set his affections on this little speck of a person. He is far from indifferent toward me.
Click here to read the rest of the Ten Big, Daily Reminders on Desiring God's blog.
Relevant magazine recently published an article by this title on their website. Perhaps you've had to wait for something before? In a store, at a restaurant... or for a season of life? We often find ourselves waiting on specific things in our lives: a spouse, a house, a child. This article gives 5 reasons why God sometimes allows us to wait for certain things. It is important to fix our eyes on Him as wait instead of the thing we are waiting on.
Eric Speir writes, "God always has good reasons for making us wait. Waiting is a part of life and one of God's tools for developing people. The Bible is full of stories of people having to wait on God, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Daniel, Jesus, Paul and countless others." Be faithful in the small things as you wait on God to bring about His work in your life.
Click here to read more from Relevant's 5 Reasons God Makes Us Wait article.
Calculating God's will is not a formula or magic equation. Knowing God's will for your life comes from knowing HIM intimately. When you are closely aligned with Him by studying His Word, praying for wisdom, praising His goodness, and keeping Him first in your life you will find it desirable to trust God for your next steps. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."
Click here to read more about knowing God's will for your life.
College is an exciting time for young people. New friends, new freedom, new teachers, new experiences, etc. The next four years will bring lots of excitement, but don't forget what matters most. If you've been raised in a Christian home or have parents who value Sunday mornings in church, it might be second nature for you to find a new church home or community of believers. For others, it may not be so easy. Either way, you will be faced with new choices. The choices you make can push you towards Christ or pull you away. That's why it's imperative to make the ultimate choice before you even get to college to put Him first above all things.
This article on Christian College Guide shares more insight on how you can keep Christ first in college.
“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” –Francis Chan
We live in a world that constantly markets good things. Success, popularity, and money, just to name a few. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, they certainly aren’t suitable foundations upon which a life can be built.
Before Jesus began His public ministry, John the Baptist was growing in both success and popularity. He was proclaiming a message, and people were responding in large numbers. Crowds began to gather and follow him around.
However, once Jesus came on the scene, some people who had been following John actually left him to follow Jesus. This didn’t escape the notice of John’s inner circle, who interpreted this as a ministerial failure:
“John, don’t you understand what’s happening? You’re successful – people are responding to your message! But now people are leaving you to follow Jesus. Do something! Your popularity and success are at stake!”
John’s response provides a glimpse into his heart’s motivation, a stark contrast from the focus of his friends: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John wasn’t enthralled with the praise of men or devastated with their desertion; either way – popular or unpopular, successful or a failure, rich or poor, well-liked or despised – his focus was on pointing others to Jesus.
The aim of John’s life was to proclaim Jesus, viewing his circumstances as a platform from which he could re-direct the gaze of his audience. He set the stage and drew a crowd. But at the critical moment, when the spotlight flickered on, John knew in his heart where he rightfully belonged. Figuratively, he pushed Jesus into the spotlight and was content to slip behind the curtain. He had done his job.
It has been said that “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” To spend our lives on good things might mean missing out on giving ourselves away for the greatest thing – knowing Jesus and making Him known.
Let us with dignity and joy follow the example of John, content to sink into obscurity as the name of Jesus grows increasingly cherished in our particular spheres of influence.
He must become greater, we must become less.
Written by: Abbey Le Roy, MA in Theological Studies from CIU's Seminary and School of Ministry
"Give us this day our daily bread." Matthew 6:11