How God steered one State Prison to create a space for Himself. Just in time for Christmas.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16
When the CRI Group I serve began (2013), we met in a multi-purpose classroom. Classes for Fire Fighter training have been held there, departmental meetings, etc. Some of the walls are covered with bookcases holding Educational / GED texts. I quickly learned to arrive early to move furniture. Sometimes it was a few tables and chairs, other times I needed help from inmates as they arrived. We have been bumped out by circumstances into other spaces. We’ve hauled gear up and down flights of stairs, down long corridors, and between buildings in the rain. Sometimes inmates declined to attend simply because they didn’t want to get wet. (It rains here a lot.)
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me sooner, but early this year I thought: “Why don’t we have a Chapel?” So I prayed.
Those thoughts continued, to the point that a while later, I took precious time from my very irregular contact with the Chaplain to ask about the lack of “Church” space. His response was an eye-opener.
Many years before, when he first arrived to serve, implementing a Chapel was an item on his Goals List. Over the years he’d simply given up asking because the suggestion had been denied so many times. I volunteered to suggest the matter to the Superintendent, all the while understanding that the Chaplain felt it would be a wasted effort, and worse: that he would have to answer extra questions about why I was writing.
So I prayed a lot more. I had my wife join me. We concluded that I had to write the letter. I kept it extremely brief. The body of the text was only 160 words. And then?
Silence. Months went by. I finally phoned to ask the Chaplain what had happened and got an earful. My letter had started a process that forced him to move his office so that he could be near a space that was at that very moment being remodeled to become the new SCCI Chapel. I was, like… Wow! The Chaplain, on the other hand, was feeling less than cheerful. Don’t get me wrong, he and I have a wonderful relationship, but my letter resulted in him being pressed into activities that only complicated his heavy schedule.
Some weeks after that, I was doing chores in our yard, just enjoying what God had done at the prison. And then I saw them: three church pews we discovered in a storage shed when we bought the place in 2011. We have no idea how they got there, where they came from or anything. They were just sitting there… heavy, 10 feet long, with mildewing orange upholstery. Kristin suggested that we give them to the Shutter Creek Chapel. So I asked the Chaplain about the pews, sort of expecting a less than enthusiastic response. Was it a silly waste of his time again? But he promised to bring the donation up in his Staff meeting.
Well, the answer came back YES! — which left us with how to move them, as we live an hour away, and church pews don’t exactly fit in the back of our Scion XB. There is also the issue of paperwork, i.e. how to actually get them past control and into the prison. A few more weeks passed and one day I got a call from the Deputy Superintendent: Do I still want to donate the furnishings? Would I be home that day? Could he come by right now to pick them up?
A longer story made short: In a matter of a few hours, those pews were out of storage and on the way to serving inmates in their new Chapel. First they went to the prison wood shop for refinishing and then …who knows what good will come of them? (God does!)
As of this writing, we haven’t yet been able to use the new Chapel. I was hoping we could decorate the altar for Christmas (IS there an altar, even?) but God is gracious and really patient. He gets things done His own way. Perhaps the important thing to know is that when we ask the Lord for things that are important to Him, He will deliver them.
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7
Jesus impressed on our hearts the need for a Chapel. It was prayer that revealed the manner of the letter. It was the Holy Spirit that moved the Prison Administration to act.