Each visit is different, reflecting the nature of the situation and those in charge. CRC Norco is an old but more classic building; the original Hotel California razor wire runs the perimeter with guard towers every 500 feet. We are with our close friends, Dayne and Jim, and it is Jim’s first time inside a prison. It is always a bit tense. Once we make it through security, they conduct identification analyzes -- assuring the bible is really a bible -- a metal detector, and then we are taken to chapel. Chapel is a big church-like building with stained glass, and the sounds of worship are already filling the Holy Hall. The worship leaders, all inmates rehearsing for the big event, at the same time touched by the words of a loving father, who knows their name, who loves them unconditionally, and has a place they can only imagine prepared in heaven. Words of worship are salve to their open wounds of neglect and mistreatment and hopelessness.
We are a relatively small group – volunteers, staff, members of graduates’ family, but after we are seated, out come a couple hundred inmates slowly taking their places, careful not to touch one another (against the rules). Some stop at the kneeler, laying their requests and burdens before the Lord. Now worship begins in earnest, heartfelt, filled with the Holy Spirit we are all moved and stirred and shaken in ways that help us see God’s presence in our lives. We are there to celebrate three graduates of the TUMI program. Men who have led and been led through a rigorous study, hundreds of hours of God’s word and committed to living it out by teaching, preaching, confessing and committing.
Their stories wrench your heart. These men, as children, witness regular domestic abuse. Dad kills mom, life on the street, using heroin, and their own violence toward others – all of their stories belie a true understanding of the importance of a second chance. These three men, more mature in their faith, and a church full of seekers become riveted by my husband Phil. A defense attorney, now President of Serving California, but in the moment a bold preacher of the word carried along by the Holy Spirit. He reads the words, from Corinthians 1:26, on how God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and you see the men connecting, contemplating how God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (this is a harder sell as these men are all about respect and being strong).
He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are; now the connection is complete, especially here in prison they feel every part lowly and despised, they have mentioned before that part of the gift of a visitor is someone to look them in the eye and connect with a dignified greeting. Paul tells us the reason God chose the foolish, the weak, the despised, was so that no one may boast before him. If these men, prisoners, are now righteous, holy and seek redemption it must be because they are in Christ Jesus and now have wisdom from God. Carried away by the Holy Spirit and really preaching like I have never seen him before, Phil shares with the men their unique role to take back the streets for Jesus. He proclaims that only they know what it’s like to live in the clutches of the Beast. That only they can go back and rescue souls in this dark place.
It is a holy time, you can sense some accepting their call, their special role, one that you and I can never fulfill because who would listen; what do we know about the heart of the dragon? Phil beautifully calls them out with an encouragement and genuine respect. Serving California is a ministry of second chances. In this experience, at this time through Phil and the other saints who minister regularly to these men, I had the privilege of witnessing new birth in these men; the call to be a worker for Christ in a place where the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. You can sense how God has a unique and special role for each person there. Their hopelessness is lifted today, they are ready to begin then and there; many have and will. We will be back to see many more graduates of a truly life changing program. Ready to take the streets back for Jesus!