This year we were able to participate in a prison outreach in South Carolina for the first time! This one started two weekends after ReNew Hope ended. Our in-between plans to go west changed due to one of us getting sick, so we ended up going to North Carolina for the week. We were able to rest up at the camp we were staying at, and God even gave us some unexpected opportunities to sing, one at a Wednesday night church meeting and another at a cancer center.
Gospel Express is the ministry that puts together this prison outreach. It’s actually really neat that the timing of it allows a lot of people who were at ReNew Hope to participate in this one. Between the two outreaches we had lots of fellowship!
The prison we were supposed to go into the first day was cancelled. The next day it still hadn’t opened up (a different family was scheduled to go in each day), so the volunteers made it a matter of prayer. The third morning the word came…the team could come in!
On the second day, which was the first prison we actually made it into, we had an amazing time. There were a couple inmates who had guitars and they told us, “We want to sing a song for you while you set up.” Then when we had gotten all set up there was some time to spare, so we were visiting with an inmate and found out he is a choir member in the prison’s church. He called a few other singers over and they sang “10,000 Reasons” for us, and then they did another song and taught us a part to sing with them, and then we sang a couple more together. It was really special.
The third day we went to a prison where the volunteers who went in every day felt like it was a dark place. But there was definitely life in there in the midst of that. We could see men who were engaging with the messages of songs, and people responded during the invitation. Prison ministry isn’t all “the special moments” that are exciting to share with others. Sometimes the things that are special are somewhat overlooked but what are most important–God’s word going forth and Him working in people’s hearts.
In the last prison we were really hoping to hear the choir sing after other people told us about them. And we did…but not in the way we were thinking. When we got to the chorus of “He Knows My Name,” the men joined in like we had never heard inmates sing that song before. Surprise! A whole bunch of them knew it. Then when we got to “Chain Breaker,” they just belted it out. We’ve kind of learned that when you sing that song in prison you have to repeat the chorus again because none of us are ready to be done with it.
Prison ministry. Tough places? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.
“To give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3 NKJV