In Jail

Sometimes we think we have God all figured out. Many of us base our spiritual fortitude on the fact that we’ve attended church for years, read the Bible cover to cover and lead a pretty solid prayer life. I was one of those Christians, and then I joined a ministry visiting institutionalized teens, and it rocked my world. After a life-changing journey of holding Bible studies within juvenile detention centers, I understood some concepts about God in a much deeper way.

If You Want to See God’s Power, Just Show Up

I am the last person on Earth you’d picture in a youth prison ministry. I don’t enjoy teenagers, I’m as white-bread as it comes, and the thought of answering questions like “how does God let bad things happen?” terrified my soul. But I knew God was telling me to go, and years of pulling a Jonah taught me to listen this time. Was it scary, and awkward beyond measure when angry 14 year-olds stormed out during my purity lesson? Yep. But as soon as I stopped worrying whether they’d show up, or hurl insults, or whether I memorized enough scripture, God did all the work. He gave me answers to all their difficult questions, and helped me discern how to pray for each of them. I never thought I could be used in such powerful ways. God really just needs a warm body. Bondages were broken, kids gave their live to Christ, and I started trusting God instead of myself.

Lost People Want the Truth, More Than We Think

When I first started visiting the facilities, I saw myself as a sort of “Avon Lady for Jesus.” I tried to package the Gospel with relatable stories, not focusing too much on sin, and always throwing a bonus sample of God’s promises, to not offend or overwhelm. Then a girl asked a question: “But Miss, like what’s the point of Jesus dying?” I had no cute anecdote for this one, so I was forced to speak from the heart, sharing God’s plan for salvation and proof of how much He loved them. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, and I broke through to them for the first time. And then I realized, lost people need to know the truth, not our watered-down version of the good news. These girls were tossed aside or abused by their own loved ones. One girl’s mother locked her in the bathroom with a mix of bleach and ammonia, and left the house for a day. They need to know our God delivers more than lip service. The realization they were truly worth dying for, did more than any Esther story could ever do. I’ve learned that the best way to share God with the lost is to simply talk about Him. There’s plenty of time for doctrinal concepts and learning how to be a Christian.

People just want to know how truly good God is. As Christians, we assume that everyone knows God is good. Heck, it was my Facebook motto before they changed our homepage and befuddled us all. He’s kind, He’s gracious, and we’ve been singing about it since the first Sunday school hymn. But the world has no idea, and there’s no greater joy than telling them. There’s nothing like looking into the eyes of a 14 year-old wrist-cutter, and telling her that God sees her as perfect. Or promising a 15 year-old rape victim that God can take away her anger. And also bring vengeance someday. When people start seeing God for who He really is, the rest will come.

We’re Totally Capable in Him

Many of us growing up in the church come to accept a certain hierarchy of spiritual leadership and gifting. There’s the elders, the youth leaders, ministry workers, etc. Everyone has their gifts, and we know where to send people when they need help. Diagnosed with a condition? Second door on the left is the healing room. Marriage on the rocks? Sign up in the lobby for a counseling session. These are all good systems, until we rely on others, rather than ourselves, when faced with hurting people. Whether out of fear or laziness, we tend to accept the lie that all of us are not completely empowered by the Holy Spirit to do “even greater works than I,” according to Jesus. Even greater, huh? We all agree with this statement, until we’re faced something that requires this kind of faith.

Sad to say, I lived through years of Christianity before being face with this quandary. After teaching the girls about baptism, they asked if any believer could perform this. I said yes, according to the Bible, and quickly ate my words as they erupted in a flurry of excitement, assuming I would be able to baptize them next visit. Ummmmm actually, let me check the King James Version for the exact protocol…I totally panicked. All of my spiritual insecurities came blasting to the surface, as I questioned whether I really believed what I was touting. All of the “churchy” beliefs that only pastors do the weighty tasks like healing and baptizing haunted me, and I seriously considered asking a leader to come with me, or letting the girls down easy. But God is good, and he reassured me through his Word that we really are meant to live out Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

As much as I wanted to read “Therefore guilt your overworked pastor into baptizing,” I swallowed my fear, smuggled a five-gallon Poland Spring bottle into the facility, and promptly baptized two girls the next week. Ironically the biggest trial we faced was convincing one eager participant she had to get her hair wet. She literally came to group with a shower cap.

When we doubt whether we have the power, spiritual depth, or ability to be used for God, remember that He’s the one who will speak and move through us. All we have to do is trust Him.

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