A universal comment that I find when having an honest conversation with people about a relationship with God is that they consider church folk – phoney. The sad part is that in some cases they are right. Have we become so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good? Did we forget that Christ met us at our needs no matter where it was – the crack house, whore house, another woman’s/man’s house, the Hungry-house, the Poor House ….you get the point. The challenge is even more strenuous if there is a title in front of your name. Does the Reverend, Minister, First Lady, Pastor….(whichever the title) wear a Halo or a Hoodie?
One of the most scariest times of my life was when I went into the prison. I know that I am to reach out to Domestic Abuse survivors no matter where they are so I went. Yup I said it, I was nervous, scared. Don’t judge me and toss scripture, I know God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear but hearing those doors slam shut sent a shiver up my human spine, so I prayed. As I went in with my Bible and my little handouts, I prayed that God would have His way even while walking through the glass doors that lead into the lobby. As I entered, my heals clacked and echoed off of the lockers and high ceiling filling the emptiness as I approached the round glass encased security-desk. The air even felt empty as if people walk through those doors and give up all hope, compassion, dreams, ideas….just empty acceptance of the fate behind those bars.
I present my ID, get my locker and go into the smaller waiting room where empty eyes of visiting relatives, friends and community programs glance over. I stop being so nervous as I look at how many broken families are represented in those 10-15 people sitting here. What are we doing for them? Praise dancing on Sunday and passing judgment on Monday? God are we so heavenly minded that we are really not doing any earthly good. Have we as salt, lost our savor?
The iron bars closing at the door where I just walked through, interrupt my thoughts and the sound made my heart race. HERE WE GO!! I watch waaaaaayyyy to much television and my imagination is very active (hey—don’t judge) because as that gate slammed shut sealing my ‘out’ and the other iron monster began to open up our access into the hallway of the prison, I started to see shanks, riots and SWAT all at once (in my head of course). I’m careful to walk down the hallway smack dab in the middle (even though I am the only one in it) so that the camera can see me….hmmmm what if they went to lunch and there is no one there. The bars behind me have closed and I’ve walked what felt like a football field down the hall to the next gate which opens as soon as I get there (whew…there IS someone watching on the camera).
The classroom door is open and I go in and shut it behind me and then I pray again. I feel guilty for being afraid and for having a stereotype of the sisters that are coming into the room. I ask God to give me the words to say and that His daughters are brought closer to HIM. I am so hyper alert at this point that when the 300 pound sister with the very short haircut grunted “I like your sweater” I almost threw it at her and ran out the door. (Ok, make that face as you read this if you want to, I told you I have a vivid imagination fueled by television). I didn’t even see faces, just heard voices and began to hyperventilate a little. I kept repeating prayer in my head and as the Spirit calmed me and my system started to come back to normal, I began to focused on the women that were coming in the door (asking God to forgive me for judging and making assumptions) I realized that I knew some of these women! We made small talk and I am super conscious and careful to just show love and compassion but being honest like…’you KNOW that you have better things to do other than being in here’. Now I am more at ease and we had an awesome time discussing God’s word.
The preconceived ideas of what ‘they’ would be like had me shook but God sent me there to see that these women were just like me…. daughters, sisters, mothers and most of all HIS. I didn’t see criminals, I saw women who were behind tons of steel but were more free and had more of a free praise and Love for God than the Halo wearing church folks on the outside.
Yes, we can say ‘whatsup?!’ when someone says ‘Hey gurl’ and know what is going on with music, language, artists…etc. and wear a hoodie without ‘losing our salvation’ or being ‘worldly’. In whatever we do, we can’t be one way on Sunday and another on Monday….don’t wear your Halo on Sunday and Hoodie on Monday making you so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good…or seen as phoney. Being consistent and comfortable in who we are allows for effective ministry that is not judgmental yet honest, meets people where they are (financially, educationally, mentally) and is most certainly to HIS glory. By the way…the woman who complimented my sweater (let’s call her Kate)….the one that made me nervous. Was the greatest joy to have met. As a group we shared in break-throughs, we wrestled with God’s Word together and we celebrated Kate’s release armed with a stronger relationship with God, the sword to guide her,and the decision that she would not return. It’s been about 7 years since my first prison experience and praise God….Kate has not returned and still praises God from under her hoodie.