So, I visited Centinela Prison last weekend with the Faith Community Prison Ministry team. It was a bittersweet trip, as I had been hoping to attend a reunion in the mountains that weekend with a bunch of old friends from the Jesus Movement. But then I realized I had a scheduling conflict. I had to go with my first commitment.
It's a three-hour drive from Ontario to the depths of the Imperial Valley (depths, literally—it's 50 feet below sea level). From the bleak, dry squalor of the lower desert I could look up directly to the west and see the verdant 6,000-foot peaks of the Laguna Mountains, where the reunion was happening. Oh well.
As it turned out, the prisoners turned the tables on us. We went there to minister, and we did: Janetta shared her incredible testimony of how God enabled her to get a kidney transplant against all odds. And Javier talked about his former life as an inmate, gang member and addict—and how God delivered him.
And of course, there was music.
But at a certain point the inmates announced they wanted to pray for us. While they laid hands on us, Clyde (not his real name) lifted up a long, passionate prayer for God's blessing, protection and sustenance. James (not his real name) had his hands on my shoulders, and I could feel the power of God flowing through him in a way I hadn't experienced for years.
Think about that awhile: God may well have been present in the mountains that weekend, but for me He was present on the desert floor, in the person of this big, intimidating-looking, three-strike felon, forgotten by the world.
Do you remember the message in the first chapter of I Corinthians? Here's an excerpt in case you forgot:
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your call, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;
but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are,
that no man should boast before God (I Cor 1: 25-29).
Thanks to Janet Young, who continues to spearhead the Prison Ministry with courage in the face of health issues, logistical problems, and spiritual resistance. We all know that visiting prisoners is an important ministry, but how many of us do it? I know I wouldn't without her prodding. The men in those facilities revere her—as they did Bob Bradley until his passing. It was a privilege to be part of this effort, along with her, Janetta, Javi, James Rocha, and the quiet giant, Rick Day.