Last Sunday, April 15, I led two bilingual Bible studies in Skagit County Jail where God showed up in beautiful ways. Before inmates read Acts 5:27-32 out loud in Spanish and English I give everyone the background. Peter and the apostles had been thrown in prison by the temple police for preaching about Jesus. An angel of the Lord had opened the prison doors and led them out. The next day when the guards go to fetch them for court, they discover the jail break. Soon they learn that they’re back in the temple preaching about Jesus. When the temple police arrest them again and the high priest confronted them with their law breaking, they say: “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”
“So who are we to obey first and foremost according to this Scripture?” I ask the inmates.
“God,” everyone responds enthusiastically. I tell them that’s its important to obey the laws too whenever they don’t go against what God is calling us into. The men smile and appear to agree.
“What’s God like and what does God do according to verse 30?” I ask.
“He raises Jesus from the dead,” someone says. Others mention how the angel had just released them from prison.
“What about human authorities, what do they do?” I ask
“They killed Jesus by nailing him to a cross,” someone reads.
“So who would you rather obey, a God who raises you from the dead or authorities who can kill you by giving you the death penalty?” I ask.
At first everyone says “God,” until Rickie, a young veteran of gangs and the prison system says something very true and sobering.
“It’s not that easy. The people with the guns can be pretty intimidating as they have the power. God did resurrect Jesus, but you have to believe in him enough to trust your life to him, because you have to die before you can be resurrected, and you can’t know for sure you’ll be resurrected. And nobody wants to die. You might obey men to avoid getting killed.”
I invite people to read the next verse, looking deeper into what God does for Jesus and for us. Hopefully people we see that the benefits to receiving from God outweigh simple compliance with rules or going along with the pressures of the crowd. We read in Acts 5:31 how God exalts Jesus to his right hand—the place of power and authority. The men are encouraged to learn that God has made him the ultimate authority and Savior. We talk about how Jesus gives repentance, (understood as a new way of thinking) and forgiveness of sins. I ask the men if they feel like they need someone to lead them and save them who offers to give them a new way of thinking and forgiveness of all their sins. Everyone appears to want to receive God’s gift of Jesus and all he offers. We read Acts 5:32 where the Holy Spirit is described as a witness to these things. I ask the men if they are willing to let me pray that the Holy Spirit would show them whether God has truly made Jesus their leader and savior and is offering them a new way of thinking and forgiveness of sins. Everyone agrees and we pray for the Holy Spirit to come.
I then ask the men if they feel attracted enough to Jesus and what he offers to welcome Jesus as their leader and Savior and to give them a new mind and forgiveness. When I begin praying and invite people to pray along men begin agreeing out loud, in their own words, saying “yes” to Jesus, accepting his offer to be their Savior of a new way of thinking and forgiveness.
After each Bible study I suggest that God longs for each one of them to become witnesses to God’s acts of liberation. We pray for two men in the first study who are healed of pain, one in his heart and another his side. I tell the inmates in the second Bible study that I believe Jesus wants to free them from their pain. I invite them to place their hands on parts of their body where they have pain or know they need healing. Nearly everyone places one or both hands somewhere—on their neck, knees, lower back, heads, hearts, shoulders. After praying for God’s healing presence to come the men tell the group one after another that their pain immediately left. Nine or ten men experienced immediate healing! They are joyful and visibly pleased.
I had noticed that a big, tall guy, probably 6’7” who stood right across from me in the circle removed his hand from his right shoulder and lower back after a few seconds. He looked discouraged and said he felt no relief when I asked him about his pain. “Do you mind if I pray for you some more?” I ask. “Yeah, I guess,” he responds.
When I ask him how it happened he tells me the police had wrenched his shoulder when they’d pulled his arm behind his back to handcuff him. The handcuffs had dug into his back as they drove him to the jail.
“Do you think you might need to forgive those officers for anything?” I ask.
“No, they were just doing their job. I’m a big dude,” he responds.
I place a hand on his shoulder and another on his lower back and start praying: “Jesus, we thank you for your huge love for this guy. Show him that you had nothing to do with the use of force that damaged his shoulder and back. I ask that you reverse the damages done by the police. Thank you that you’re all on his life is still there, and that nothing he’s done has made you give up on him.”
After praying I step back to where I’d been standing. I ask him if he notices any improvement.
“Well, it doesn’t hurt right now,” he says. “But I’m sure that if when I pull my arm behind my back the pain will still be there.”
He moves his arm behind his back and I watch surprise fill his face. He tries it a few more time and looks up astonished and says:
“Well, I grant you this one, I’ll grant this to you. There’s no more pain.”
As the reality that Jesus actually touched him and healed him dawns on him I watch a wave of emotion flow over him. His face flushes red, his eyes fill with tears. He sits down, head bowed and slowly shaking back and forth. Manny, another inmate encourages him. “That’s okay man. You’re good dude.” I leave giving thanks to God for 17-20 men who had responded to Jesus’ offer of love and the signs that confirmed the word.
Thank you for remembering us in your prayers. $25,000 came in to cover Tierra Nueva’s March expenses. We are thankful to God and to you, our partners in ministry. Please continue to stand with us in prayer:
for financial provision to complete New Earth Refuge. We still need $72,000 to cover expenses related to putting in water, septic, electricity and the framing for our guest houses and meeting room that will sleep 20. We need an additional $60,000 to complete the project. See http://bobekblad.com/newearthrefuge.html. Donations can be received online for New Earth Refuge at the bottom of that webpage.
Tierra Nueva still needs to bring in $20,000 to cover April payroll and other expenses.
Prayers for my time in Venezuela, April 23-May 1. I will be ministering to the Innerchange team headed up by John and Brigit Shorack, who serve poor urban slum-dwellers and church leaders in Caracas. Pray for my family too while I am away.
Yours in Christ,