A month or so ago I got an email from Camie Treptau, director of Village Creek Bible Camp, asking if I would be willing to put together a group of guys to come and lead worship at this weekend's Men and Boys retreat. Camie had been asking us to lead worship for this retreat for the past two or three years, and there was always some reason why we weren't able to do it. I asked the guys in the band this year, and everyone was able to go. The only sticking point was that just a few days before I received the email from Camie, Vern Hildebrandt had asked me to preach at the Dakota County Jail for our church's turn in the jail ministry rotation on the same Sunday of the retreat weekend, which I agreed to do. I made preparations for both, however, making sure that the band could cover for me not being there.
So the preparations were made, and Ferg and I headed out for camp on Friday afternoon. Jamie loves the camp, and he usually asks me at least once a week if we can go there. He was really jazzed about being able to go. But this time, he was really whiny ("Are we there yet?"). I encouraged him to just sit back, relax, and try to take a nap, which he did.
Being down at camp was busy. We had zero time to rehearse our sets before we went down to camp, so we spent a significant time rehearsing in the indoor chapel. So coordinating that, while trying to connect to the speaker for the weekend to make sure everything fit together, while trying to manage a three year old was rather taxing. Add onto that that I never sleep well at camp. My body just doesn't like camp beds. So sleep was at a minimum.
But by Saturday night it was time for us to leave, as I had to be on my way to the Dakota County jail by 8 AM Sunday morning. We left the camp at about 8:40, and got home at around midnight (I drove a little slower because I was overly paranoid about hitting a deer). After unpacking my stuff and getting everything settled at home, it was 1 AM before I went off to bed.
I woke up at 7 AM the next morning and headed to church to unpack my amplifier and guitar and put back the stuff I borrowed from the church for the retreat. Then it was a 25 minute ride to the jail.
I've been to the jail several times, but never to preach. Usually I go along as the musical talent. There are a few songs that we like to sing for and with the inmates, and they seem to really enjoy it. I think they just like something to break up the monotony of prison life. Either way, I think they are blessed by it, so it's well worth the effort.
Doing ministry (or anything, for that matter) at the jail is quite an involved process. As soon as you get there you have to put your ID into a metal box that someone on the other side of dark glass checks, to make sure you're clean. Sometimes the prison guards have even wanted to search our guitar cases and instruments before we are allowed into the jail. But then again, sometimes you move right through as if you were just entering a high school or something. This time it was pretty easy: we just showed our ID's and they brought us right through.
This time our team consisted of three people: myself, Vern Hildebrandt, and Mario Castillo. If you know Vern, you've never really truly seen him in his element until you see him "working" the crowd of prisoners. Vern goes to the jail each Wednesday also, to lead a Bible study. He has an incredible heart for the prisoners.
The jail service takes place in the gymnasium (which is interesting - the Dakota County jail actually feels more like a high school than it does a jail - the doors all look the same, and there are even classrooms down the hallways, and even a gym; but I've never seen the cells where the prisoners stay - maybe I just get to see the good side of jail!). About 80 guys came to "church" today.
The guys show up in different groups, depending on their security level, and by the time we were supposed to start, one of the guards informed us that one of the groups had gotten held up in the medical wing - guys were still getting their meds and would be late to the service. He asked us if we just wanted to start anyway, or wait for them. Vern said we should wait for them, and he asked me what we could do to kill some time. I grabbed my guitar and asked if anybody there liked bluesy, gospel music, to which most of them replied positively. So I was able to teach them one of the songs my band does, "Walk With Me." They loved it. They sang along great. It was a lot of fun. Then I sang "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" for them too, which I think they liked.
After we started Mario Castillo gave his testimony. Mario also has a great heart for ministry to the prisoners, and he has a powerful testimony of how God has worked in his life. Mario has some good ministry ahead of him.
Then I got to preach. I must confess that as I was preparing what I was going to say earlier in the week, I was a little nervous. What does one say to a group of 80 prisoners? Most of these guys are pretty hard looking, and have been around the block a few times to say the least. I pretty much couldn't have less in common with them! I concluded that the most important thing was to just be myself, and not try to be someone/thing I wasn't, and to just deliver the gospel as I knew it.
The Gideons have supplied all the prisoners with Bibles, but most of the guys are completely unfamiliar with scripture, so I made sure to have page numbers ready for them to look up the passages I was talking about. And then I just basically gave them the law and the gospel, by way of the Romans Road. I have no idea if anything got through to them, but I suppose that's why I leave God to do the work. I can only pray that they will repent and believe, just like I'd pray for anyone else who's ever heard the gospel.
Our time was over by 9:45 and the men all went back to their cells while Vern, Mario and I hoofed it back to WSP to make it to church before the service started. I came into the service completely unprepared - nothing ready for announcements, and I totally forgot to tell the worship team about my absence from rehearsal. But everything went smoothly, which was nice.
By the time I got home from lunch, I could barely keep my eyes open. I hadn't fully recovered from the lack of sleep and energy expended at camp, and I was coming off a totally new experience of preaching at the jail. I was wiped. By 2:00 I was dead to the world on our living room couch. Two hours later I awoke, having slept more soundly than I had even the previous night.
And now I'm writing this post, having completed a couple hours of homework that is due this week. It was a busy and fun weekend, but I'm not sure I could do it all the time. Oh well. It was worth it.