My husband Van and I had been sitting in the waiting room of the Vista Detention Center for about half an hour when the deputy behind the glass motioned for us. She released the door with a loud ‘bang’ and we headed down the long hallway which led to the area where nearly 1,000 people are incarcerated.
Even though I’d been escorted back to the multi-purpose room many times, the sound of the series of doors slamming shut still made me shudder. We wait as the deputy goes to get the inmates who have signed up to come to ‘church service’ this evening. Van and I quickly set up the chairs and get the room in order. Soon, the women filed in. There were twelve tonight. They looked us over as they entered the austere room. No one had a smile on their face. This is not a happy place. Most are young, some very young. They are not required to come; they want to be here.
Van passes around the sign-up sheet, name and booking number, and then I pass out some song sheets. We have a CD player with us and we sing along with the music we brought. Sometimes the women love to sing, not this group.
Our purpose of being here is to share the gospel and help them to understand that God loves them, has forgiven them through Jesus dying on the cross, and wants to have a personal relationship with them. Because of the resurrection, they can have a new life, and that life will last forever. Such a simple message, such an incredible truth! We pray that the Spirit of God would touch their hearts and give them the faith to believe.
Since this was the Saturday before Thanksgiving Day, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about things in our lives that we are grateful for. I asked them what they were grateful for. They just sat and looked at me with sullen faces, no one said a word. After a couple of minutes I started to talk about the pilgrims and briefly told the story of the first Thanksgiving Day celebration the English colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared. Then I asked again if they had anything to be grateful for. One woman spoke up and said that she was grateful that she had food to eat everyday. Another said she was grateful that her sister was taking care of her children and they were safe, she started to cry. There was silence for a minute or so, and then another woman said she was grateful for her mother who drove many miles to come see her every week. Another said she was grateful to have a cellmate who had encouraged her to start coming to the church services and Bible studies so she could learn about God. A very pretty young woman stood up and said that she was so thankful for a kind judge who had shortened her sentence and now she would be home with her family for Christmas. Someone else said they were glad to live in America.
Every one of these women had found, much to their amazement, that they had something to be grateful for. I shared with them how much God wants to bless His children and His love for us is unconditional. They understand they are in jail because they broke a civil law and must pay the penalty. I told them we’ve all broken God’s law. That is called sin and it has consequences. Jesus paid the price for our sin so we could be free. I said, “It’s like standing before a judge and having someone come beside you and say that you have been pardoned, the penalty for your crime has been paid. The judge will say, "You are free to go!”
I saw their faces begin to relax; their whole bodies took on a more positive, hopeful posture. One woman reached over and squeezed the hand of the one beside her. I continued, ”When we come to believe, God gives us a new heart and a new spirit, He works all things together for good in our lives, yes, even serving time in jail. There is nothing now that can separate us from His love and we will never again fall under condemnation from God, Romans 8:1, 38-39.
Now, I saw eyes light up and some were smiling, some had tears. The Bible is a book of promises and I shared some----love, joy, peace, and self-control. I turned to Jeremiah 29:11 and read, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. Now everyone had a smile on their face. My job was done; the rest was up to the Lord. We prayed together, and then the deputy came. We are not to have any physical contact with the prisoners, but that night we let it happen and shook hands with each of them. A few couldn’t resist a hug as they left this barren room with hearts full of gratitude and hope that there would be a better day. Glory be to God for all that He has done!
Bobbe Van Hise
- Over the past few years my blog has been visited by people from all over the world. Very few know me, or of me, they simply are looking information concerning the Bible and discover my blog. After many years of intense study and teaching, I've come to believe we are vulnerable to misguided and incorrect teaching if we don't understand for ourselves the teaching of God's Word. My 'hot buttons' are - grace, sovereignty, exhortations and sanctification. If you understand these basic principles of Scripture, and apply them to daily life, you will understand what it means to have peace, joy and absolute security in any circumstance.