Let me back up a bit. A few weeks ago I received a phone call from a chaplain at a local jail here in Savannah. He asked me if I would preach during one of their Easter week gatherings. I told him that I would be honored. At the same time I realized that I didn't really know what to expect.
I arrived at the jail yesterday and was reminded that this was not the comfortable halls of a church building. I had to show my diver's license to prove my identity and could not take my phone into the jail with me. The chaplain met me a few minutes later, and proceeded to escort me through a series of heavy metal doors. This was some serious security.
We walked into a gymnasium that had chairs and some bleachers set up. There were about six of us there at that time (4 chaplains, a man who volunteered to lead the singing, and me). As I thought about it, I figured that I'd be speaking to 20-25 men. I'm not sure where I came up with that figure.
That's when the chaplain told me that I'd be speaking to women. This surprised me. For some reason, I thought the crowd would be male. As I was processing this, about 80-100 ladies came walking in. They were clearly inmates: they all wore the same green outfit that said "inmate" on the back. I had no idea what to expect.
I'll say this - I ended up having a far better time than whatever I was expecting. It was clear from the beginning of the service that most of the ladies there love Jesus. I don't know what they did to get in there and I don't really care. I'm just as much of a sinner as they are. We are equally guilty of breaking all of God's law.
The man who led the singing was fantastic. He was enthusiastic and humble at the same time. He clearly loved Jesus Christ. After several songs that involved a lot of standing and clapping, everyone was ready to hear God's word proclaimed.
I was intimidated at first. Then I remembered that God's word is powerful by itself. I decided to just try to get out of the way of the word. The passage I preached on was the Christ Hymn (Philippians 2:5-11). I wanted to emphasize that at Easter we should think upon the entire work of Christ - all of His humiliation and exaltation.
As I was speaking, I saw before me ladies of different ethnicities, skin colors, backgrounds, educational levels, family dynamics, and, yes, crimes. They all, like everyone else, need Jesus Christ. Based on their reactions to what I was saying, I could tell that some have been saved already, some are interested, and some don't care. I suppose this is what we run into in church every Sunday as well.
As I spoke, the ladies responded vocally. They were agreeing with what Paul said in Philippians 2. As I emphasized that they have hope in Christ no matter what they have done in the past, they began encouraging me.
As usual, I set out to encourage others and instead was encouraged by them. Many of these ladies, who may be in that jail for a long time to come, have a greater zeal for and hope in the Lord Jesus than I do.
I came away both edified and convicted. Their love for the Lord encouraged me and built me up. Their desire for Him made me ask myself what I long for most deeply.
Although I've used the term "captive audience," they were actually much more of an "encouraging gathering." There are a number of ladies there who, despite what their current location may suggest, are great saints of the Lord.
I look forward to returning to speak again. I'll get more out of it than I put into it.