KOH2RVA: Day 86

hands on barsYesterday was a great day at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Attendance was up, giving was up, the “mood” was up (even though I preached a sermon called “The End of the World as We Know It”), and last night’s Hanging of the Green service was a joyful example of what Pastor Emeritus Jim Flamming later called “organized chaos.”

But that’s not what I want to talk about:

Last week I was writing about the Richmond Jail and what First Baptist Church could do to bring a little heaven to earth there, where it is so badly needed. I said that jail ministry isn’t for everyone, and a few days later I was reminded why.

Someone who had read my blog asked if I could visit a friend in jail. I said yes, of course; it felt like an answer to my prayer of wanting to get more involved. But a few hours later there I was, asking for permission at the front desk to visit someone I had never met before.

It made a difference that I was a pastor. If I had only been a friend or a family member I probably would have had to schedule an appointment first. But I gave them my name and title and told them I had come to visit and a few minutes later I was buzzed in through the heavy steel doors. I took a seat on my side of the bulletproof glass and waited for the person I was visiting to arrive.

I can’t tell you why he’d been locked up. I can only tell you that he was pretty sure he was going to be locked up for a long, long time. He has small children at home, and he was afraid that by the time he got out they would be grown and gone. He was afraid he wasn’t going to be much good to anybody—not his children, not his wife. He said he didn’t see much reason to go on living.

I asked, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Let me tell you why that’s a bad idea,” and even as I said it I hoped that God would fill in the blank with a good answer. This is what came to my mind: I said, “One thing most fathers don’t give their children enough of is time, but you are going to have nothing but time. You can use that time to write letters to your children, to pray for them, to call them on the phone, to make videos for them. You can be present in their lives even if you are absent physically, and you can be more present than a lot of fathers are.”

And then I was inspired to say this:

“They can lock you up, but they can’t lock up your love. It can go through concrete walls, bulletproof glass, and tempered steel to get to your family, just as God’s love can go through concrete walls, bulletproof glass, and tempered steel to get to you.” It was one of those moments when I thought, “Where did that come from?” because it sounded so much better than anything I could have thought of myself. I have to give credit to the Holy Spirit.  I could tell that it made an impact, that he was thinking those things through and considering the truth of them. In the end I prayed with him, gave him my name and number, and walked out through those heavy steel doors, hearing them clang shut behind me.

“I was in prison,” Jesus said, “and you visited me.” But I couldn’t help thinking about all those others inside who didn’t get a visit that day. What about them? Who will give them a reason to live? I have a feeling that even when we get to the end of this year-long, every-member mission trip called KOH2RVA we are going to discover that…

Our work is just beginning.

4 thoughts on “KOH2RVA: Day 86

  1. Wow! Pretty much sums up what I thought when I read this. I also thought, as you did, that the Holy Spirit was definitely working in you as you spoke. Exodus 4:12 says: “Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” You were obedient to go and He gave you the words. Thanks for sharing with us. Linda Watts

  2. Yes, what you said sounds like something the Holy Spirit would say. But then again, it also sounds like something Jim Somerville would say. And more often than not in my experience, there’s no point trying to distinguish the two. Thanks to both of you.

  3. What an amazing experience and what a powerful suggestion/statement that God made to this man, through YOU!! Jim, you truly are the messenger!!

  4. My work as a chaplain also included overseeing the prison unit. If there was anything I learned through that experience, prisoners are looking for someone who will listen to them, listen without judgement, love and be there, completely there, with them – not worried about who they are or what they did. Many gave up on looking because they never found anyone until I sat beside them and said “I am here for you.” The Holy Spirit took control of many of my conversations with them. It is through me (and you) we bring the words, presence, and love of Christ that can break through any barrier, including the ones the prisoners put up…and the ones we put up. Keep doing what you are doing and if I can bring the kingdom with you some day, I would love to.

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