These days I’m more aware than ever of the extreme need for effective ministry in jails, prisons and juvenile facilities around the world. Two weeks agao I returned from 15 days of speaking in France and the UK. I’m seeing tremendous hunger for God and desire to step into direct ministry there and here. Everywhere I go I find people longing to step more closely alongside Jesus in his ministry of announcing Good News with concrete signs confirming the words.
A highlight in France was a visit to a French jail in the heart of Clermont-Ferrand in the Massive Central mountain range three hours south of Paris. Jean-Paul, a young Pentecostal pastor who does one-on-one visits with inmates invited me. He has also started a house church for people on the margins. He had never led a group Bible study in the jail and wanted me to help him get one going. Guards escorted us down narrow stone corridors through thick wooden doors with huge medieval-like key holes and giant black iron hinges. Men who’d signed up were led into a small multipurpose room one at a time by burly guards. We ended up with 8-9 men from France, N. Africa and sub-Sahara Africa.
Jean-Paul opened in prayer and I talked about our ministry to inmates in Skagit County. Soon we were reading the story of Jesus’ call of Matthew the tax-collector and the men engaged well, surprised by Jesus’ following of Matthew to his house, eating with his tax-collector/sinner friends and sending the law-enforcers away to learn what it means to have compassion. These men didn’t seem to have ever heard that Jesus is a friend of sinners. They were especially moved when we got some words of knowledge about conditions Jesus wanted to heal then and there: a heart condition, depression, night mares, back and knee pain.
“Is there someone here who was stabbed in the back and you’re still feeling pain?” I asked, launching out on a faint impression. “Yeah, I am,” said a N. African guy. He was open to receiving prayer and said the pain went away immediately. Jean-Paul and I prayed for several others who claimed immediate relief from back and knee problems. I was deeply moved to see these men touched by Jesus’ real Presence to heal. Jean-Paul just wrote me to say his first Bible study after I left went really well, and that Muslim man was healed of a back problem.
Upon returning to work with Tierra Nueva last week I went with Ryan to the jail for our Sunday Bible studies for inmates in B-Pod. In the midst of short reflections on Scripture we prayed for a man with restless-leg syndrome and another man with a broken hand. On Thursday night Chris and I did our four back-to-back Bible studies where I was surprised by one of the groups who declared proudly that they were “the God pod,” and had been meeting regularly for prayer and Bible study.
“So when did that start?” I asked. An older Caucasian guy answered confidently: “It was after two of us who suffered from back problems found that our backs weren’t hurting anymore, even with these uncomfortable beds, after you guys prayed for us a few weeks back. That kind of starting things off for us I guess,” he said happily.
Today Chris and I met with last week’s Sunday groups in B-Pod. I invited the men to put out their hands to receive God’s love, the Spirit’s Presence and we prayed for Jesus to pour out his Spirit on us all. I then invited the men to put their hands where they needed prayer, and most of the guys put their hands on their hearts.
Then I got an impression of one of the men’s foreheads hitting and shattering the windshield of his car, leaving him mentally confused, and decided to ask if anyone had been in a head-on collision and gone through the windshield. The guy I was looking at said:
“Yeah, I have. I went through the windshield and was thrown from my truck going 85 mph, was all covered with blood. I prayed for this guy, lifting off shock and trauma and praying for freedom from confusion he’s felt since the accident. After I sat down one of the inmates told me that this was the guys we’d prayed for who had the broken hand, and that two days later it was completely healed. This guy looked like Jesus’ special care and pursuit was really starting to sink in. The guy with the restless leg syndrome then told everyone that since receiving prayer the week before his legs were almost completely better.
While I am fully aware that healing is only one dimension of Jesus’ ministry, I am deeply moved to see how impactful it is for these beat-up men to experience God’s love in such tangible ways.
I was also moved by the growing interest among French Christians in reaching out to people in their prison system. The publisher of the French version of Reading the Bible with the Damned (Lire la bible avec les exclus) just published the French version of A New Christian Manifesto. I had two radio interviews with national catholic stations and will be featured in the French Catholic weekly Temoignage Chretien (Christian Witness), regarding ministry to inmates and others on the margins. In the UK, too, I have received invitations to train chaplains and to visit prisons in London and Manchester.
The harvest is plentiful and the workers are increasing and wanting training. Please pray for even more hunger and fruitfulness as our Tierra Nueva teams reach out to women, men and juvenile offenders here in Mount Vernon.