Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Grace and peace friends.
I was privileged to spend the past weekend at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault with 24 other “outsiders” participating with 47 “insiders” on a Charis weekend. Charis is the Greek word for grace. The intent of the weekend is to bring the grace of Jesus to the lives of the men inside the prison that they might experience for themselves the grace and love of Jesus.
For 12 hours (8 am to 8 pm) Friday/Saturday and Sunday the “outsiders” leave their world behind and enter the world of a correctional facility. We are only in one building for the whole time, but the guys bring their world to us. The razor wire is very visible all day long from the windows of our gathering area…as well as the officers, cameras, “count” (three times each day the men are counted to make sure everyone is where they need to be) and other reminders that we are in a place where freedoms we on the outside take for granted have been taken away from those on the inside.
Each day is structured around a series of talks and table discussions about Christian faith and living. The talks are given by both lay people and clergy (I wish there were other ways to identify us!). One of the highlights of the weekend is a special dinner that is served to the men (never happens in prison) and has placements and decorations in the room. This doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but to the guys it is very powerful. The best decoration is a bouquet of real flowers (they NEVER see these!) arranged in the shape of a cross.
On Saturday night I led a time of worship where we were giving and receiving forgiveness. We had brought the flowers in to our “community room” after the dinner. Part of the worship called for us to write down the people we needed to forgive, the people we needed to ask for forgiveness, and things we needed forgiveness for…and then lay them down at the foot of the cross.
As I was watching the men lay these lists down at the cross, I noticed one man stopped, looked closely at the flowers as if to ask “are they real?” and then leaned forward and took a big whiff. A look of wonder and satisfaction and joy came across his face as he walked back to his seat.
And the thought occurred to me…”is it real?” Is the forgiveness God offers real? How would I know?
As we were leaving that night, I was talking to the officer at the desk. I had spoken to him earlier in the day about his life and family and faith. He looked me right in the eye and said “you guys are really making a difference here.” I said, “how do you know?” He replied…”I can see it in the guys. The way they walk (straighter), they way they talk, the way they smile. All of their body language says a change has happened!”
Toward the end of the retreat I invited those that hadn’t been baptized in the Christian faith and had made a decision to follow Jesus to meet with me in another room. 12 of the 47 guys came. At least half had had no experience with Christianity. One guy said that he had been in the wicca religion for the last two years but he now knew a freedom in Jesus he never believed possible.
Sunday evening many guys gave testimonies as to how their hearts and minds had been changed during the weekend.
I know the forgiveness of God is real. I know that it is life changing. It has happened to me. And it continues to happen in places like MCF-Faribault and all across the world. People see it. People experience it. People know it.
If you have been asking that question, as many are, “is God real?”…I want to encourage you to keep asking…and keep looking for signs. Keep talking to people and ask them their stories. In thousands of places and in thousands of ways God’s grace is being poured out in Jesus, forgiveness is offered and received and lives (and the world) are being changed for good.
God bless you richly in these days as you look for the real deal.