This afternoon I was escorted into the Newton Correctional Facility. The fences and walls were tall and stark. They were uninviting and unwelcoming. No one was smiling. No one was laughing. We went through one door or gate after another with countless officials watching every step and every movement. It was nearly 6 pm. The sun wasn't out. The skies were grey. There'd been some rain around nearly all day.
Bryan escorted me into a large room. It turned out to be not only an assembly hall but also a large gymnasium. There were seats for 320+ people... and there were at least 320 people in the hall. There were inmates, officials, guards, relatives on inmates, people involved in prison ministry and a few guests like Fay and I.
Bryan had said, "I've got permission to get you into the prison, but I haven't got permission to get you out yet!" (Typical Bryan comment).
Bryan and Marcia are involved as volunteers in a program called Inner Change Freedom Initiative. The program goes for 18 months. There were 29 men graduating. Others there had done the program, some were currently doing the program and still others were going to do the program. It's about how to change lives... finding an inner change to Jesus Christ. "The program doesn't change you... only Jesus can do that" Bryan reminded me.
These men were awesome! They shone with Jesus Christ! They encouraged each other! They sang with gusto!
They received their certificates with honour and pride and were greatly encouraged by everyone else present. "These guys are really hungry for the Lord," Bryan added.
So, at the end, I did get "released"!
I've made a commitment to pray for this program regularly and one fella in particular. The program is operating in the following states: Texas, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Arkansas.
We're enjoying Iowa. We had a beaut time with Harvey and Lynn (pictured with Fay) from Oak Park (Chicago). They're Servas friends. And the Banana Split? It did 17 miles chasing Harvey in Chicago and then about 10 miles chasing Mike Thayer in Newton!
Have you ever been to prison? Or to a butterfly garden?