Jesus hung out with the rejects, the prostitutes and the lowly in class, it is no surprise that he would be with the criminals also.
God tends to show up in the places you least expect; places like a prison visitation room that holds more people than there is room for. He likes to show up when you are standing at a waist high counter with metals bars reaching to the ceiling, and squished between strangers. See, the wonderful thing about God is that when you ask, He will show up in any place.
I visited the prison once a week for almost two months. When I went, one of my teammates and I saw the same girl. She was a foreigner in the prison and had a 17 year sentence. Her family and friends were thousands of miles away. We became quick friends. I suppose when you rarely see people on the outside world, it does not take much for you to open up to them.
When she spoke of her faith it was out of obligation, not passion.
Not only was I able to build a friendship with her but I was also able to disciple her in her faith in Jesus. She had converted from Buddhism to Christianity in the prison a year prior. It did not take long to discover that she was being pushed further into a legalistic religion rather than an intimate relationship with God. The Christian influence around the prison was about rules, not love. When she spoke of her faith it was out of obligation, not passion.
She asked many questions about my faith and I was able to share the gospel and testimonies with her. I took how Jesus lived His life on earth and showed her how it was different then the laws of the Pharisees. My own life worked as an illustration of God’s loving and gracious character.
…and a burning desire to know God grew inside her heart.
It became evident that she wanted to experience God’s presence. She wanted to hear Him speak to her and be led by His Holy Spirit. So we began to pray. We prayed with her and on our own. She asked God to reveal Himself to her. I told her some of the ways He does speak. I stood by and watched as a fading candle ignited again, and a burning desire to know God grew inside her heart.
Our visits went from small talk to her sharing stories of how she was growing closer to Jesus. It began with the small things, for example instead of letting anger grow in her heart she would call out to God and place the burden on His shoulders. It then grew into bigger things. God began performing miracles in her life.
“Be dependent on God.”
One of the prison guards did a random room search in the women’s ward. He told all the girls to give them their cells phones. My friend, knowing if she hid her phone that the guard would destroy the room to find it, reluctantly passed her phone forward. It was then drowned in a bowl of water and taken away. Devastated, she told us about it the next day when we came to visit. She now had no way of contacting her parents. We prayed for God to provide a new phone for her. We prayed that he would bless her in more ways than she could imagine.
The next week, she told us about drama that was happening between her and one of her friends. She shared how alone she had felt during those days of conflict and how every earthly relationship had fallen through. So she went to God. But as she took her bible, she could not muster up the strength or will to read it. Instead she held it tight and cried out to God. From her closed bible a paper fell to the floor. It had been a note that she had written months ago. It read, “Be dependent on God.”
He does not see them in their chains, he does not see the mistakes.
My heart swelled and a cry came from my lips. My friend had heard God. He did not stop there. We had prayed for blessing for her. Along with the story of conflict, she shared of remarkable generosity that had been shown to her. Several random people had given her gifts. One sent her clothes, another food, another books. She was blown back at how even in the midst of a trial, God was still blessing her. At the end of our visit, she made the big reveal. Someone had contacted her and told her that they were sending her a phone.
God answered our prayers many times while we visited the prison, He answered them in physical ways and in spiritual ways. We prayed for materials, he provided, we prayed for growth and revelation, he showed up. Jesus hangs out with the criminals, I believe He quite enjoys is actually. Because He does not see them in their current imprisonment, he does not see them in their chains, he does not see the mistakes. He sees them the way that he created them, He sees them in His grace and glory. He sees them in His forgiveness. God is in the prisons, He is looking after His children in there, and when they call upon Him, He loves to show up.