JUNE 29, 2018

A Sad Reminder

Dear Church,

This past Monday was our first Summer Serve Day when thirty-four of us partnered with Chicagoland Prison Outreach for a day of service.  A handful of us went to lead a worship service at the Division Ten Maximum Security Prison at Cook County Jail.  The rest of the group traveled to the CPO school to radically transform their space by landscaping, painting, cleaning and gardening.  I was a part of the group that led the worship service in the jail and in fact, was asked to preach for this special “Father’s Day Service.” Before the service started, the inmates were led into the sterile looking “chapel,” with no pulpit, rows of steel benches with no backs, and a sparse looking wooden cross on the platform.  I was able to connect with a guy named Everado. He was from Chicago Heights and had been in Division Ten for fourteen months.  He didn’t offer what he did to be there, and I didn’t ask.  He simply said he wasn’t going to see his wife and his four children for a very, very long time.  Everado was a rough looking guy.  He was about six feet tall and was built like a middle linebacker.  He had shoulder length, jet black hair and his hair slightly covered the giant cross that was tattooed across his face.  He had other tattoos, including fangs below his lips, he had done while incarcerated.

We talked for about ten minutes before the service started.  He told me how sad and depressing being in jail is, but that you must set that aside and not think about it or else it will “really mess you up.”  He told me how he hasn’t seen his kids since he’s been locked up because his wife didn’t want them to see their father like this. He told me he “kinda understands.” After the service he came up to me and thanked me for coming and asked that I sign his bulletin.

Being a part of the worship service there that morning was about the most uplifting and discouraging thing I’ve been a part of in a long time.  It was so uplifting to see sixty-five men standing and singing their hearts out, even shouting out loud “Jesus going to set me free” in a Capella-like spiritual song. Some guys came forward during the singing and simply stood there with their palms open.  Other guys knelt in their pews offering silent prayers.  Some guys came forward to read testimonies of how lost and broken they were, even admitting suicidal thoughts and attempts, only to find the love and grace of Jesus.  And several guys performed a modern-day skit of the Prodigal Son passage. There was an energy and a joy in that room that honestly, I wish we had in worship.  It was so uplifting.

But as the service concluded and we were escorted by prison guards through the dimly lit narrow hallways of the jail, I was reminded just how awful life must be like for those guys.  Division Ten is really a holding jail for inmates who are awaiting trial.  However, the system is so slow, broken and backlogged that some inmates are there for north of six years simply waiting for their case to be heard.  When I was preaching about “owning our stuff,” just like King David did when he was called out by the Prophet Nathan, I mentioned owning my failures as a father.  I can’t imagine how these guys feel, some of whom will never see their kids again and others who must see their kids through plated glass.  The worship service we had there was wonderful, but it was just one thing of many things I needed to do that Monday.  For those guys, the worship service was the highlight of their month. Husbands will miss anniversaries and fathers will miss birthdays.  Many of the guys there will die in prison.  It was so discouraging.  Yet in the middle of it all, I couldn’t help but think if Jesus was walking the streets today, He would be in Division Ten, ministering, loving and serving.  He would be with the least and the lost.  He would be with the discouraged and downtrodden. And while I’m thankful I will not know a life in Division Ten, I do know that Division Ten reminded me what the Kingdom of God is like.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Matt