Louisiana State Penitentiary is a place of new beginnings. There is a sign that even says it when you enter through the front gate. I am sure some would say otherwise but it is true. Of the 5100 prisoners housed there for the most violent crimes over 2000 of them have formed a relationship with Jesus Christ. Freedom from behind bars. A paradox of sorts. Only God could orchestrate what I witnessed this past weekend. Men living in freedom in a way that most of us on the outside struggle ourselves to maintain.
As I looked into their faces and listened to their stories I realized I am no different than they are. I struggle. I make poor choices. I fall and by God’s grace get back up again. Aren’t we all really just one bad choice away from possible disaster?
I wanted to post all weekend but as often happens my emotions take over and the right words escape me. They cannot be found. I feel as though I will not do these men honor and many of them deserve honor and respect. I saw a fire in them for Jesus Christ that I am hard pressed to find in our churches. Now I know there are going to be skeptics. Those that say they too could be on fire like that if they were placed in that desperate of a situation where God was really all they had left. Somehow using “real life" and living in a free world as an excuse.
Their relationship was real and they were authentic. They had no reason to try and pretend to be something they were not.
Not only was witnessing this fire and worshipping with them an experience I will not soon forget but the images of them as they grabbed their children and loved on them will be etched in my mind forever. These were men among men. Real fathers who are working hard to make changes that will impact future generations.
At the end of the day I watched a man get down on his knees and pray with his 2 small children. When he finished it was time for goodbye. The little girl started to cry, the man assigned to assist this family was crying. The dad held back his own tears and in an act of bravery said it was time to go. I walked up to him after his children were escorted away and placed my hand on his shoulder and told him that he did more today for those kids in one day then some dads ever do in a lifetime. He told me how hard it was and that he was overwhelmed with emotion. He said he was ready to go lay down, drift off to sleep, and dream. I told him I was proud of him. He is a great man of God. I will pray daily for his release understanding that sometimes God works in ways we never really understand and that He is the author and perfecter of their faith and in His wisdom he may need to stay a while longer.
These men are truly rehabilitated and they are truly free. Freedom behind bars. Who ever knew it was possible. I am ever so grateful that I had the chance to be with them if only for a little while. It was a privilege. God has allowed me to have many opportunities and though it is difficult I lay it all out there when He does. I have left pieces of my heart a lot of places and this weekend a part of my heart is in the Louisiana State Pen. You have inspired me to deepen my faith and to believe in miracles. You are a miracle with your well worn Bibles being carried around in your back pockets. Angola you will always be a part of me.
I will share more stories from the trip later this week.
Have a blessed day!