As I walked in a rush of heat almost knocked me to the floor. Sitting there, wide eyed, shirtless and bustling with anticipation for our ministry hour were over 200 inmates crammed into their dark meeting hall. An eruption of joy blindsided me as hope radiated from the faces of these captives.
I understood in that moment that I was there to taste the true freedom of these barred walls.
We began dancing and in unison their voices rose. When we praised, shirts were lifted and thrown in the air as they leapt off the floor. As they sang, "WE ARE VICTORIOUS! WE ARE VICTORIOUS!" with bellies full of joy, shouting erupted among the masses. Never could I imagine in such a place, being given wild permission to hand my heart over in total surrender to the one I love.
After the dancing, the sweating and the fullness of His presence, we entered into a time of testimonies.
One man exclaimed that him and his inmates were truly the worst in all of society, that we could hardly imagine the places they've walked but with laughter he praised,
"God has found us in such a place and it's here that we now have hope. We would avoid church at any cost when we were out there and who could imagine that we would all look forward to this day now."Others shared tales of undeserved life in moments met by the face of death. They gave thanks for times of beauty in their hardened world. Of the hundreds of men, I could count not a single shoe among them but surely nothing bypassed their hearts of gratitude.
Looking around the room, I saw men living out their final years locked away, others far younger than the students that I've grown to love, but all holding one thing in common:
outcasts found by a faithful and just friend in the coarsest of places.
We closed our time with outstretched hands, touching mercy, embracing grace and praying courage over hungry souls.
In the vastness of this world before me, I found freedom in this imprisoned place.