God in the Dark
When I travelled to Myanmar last month, I was asked what prompted my decision to go. I told my questioner, “I get to see God’s grace at work in some surprising places.” One of the most surprising is my own heart. That is, it takes God’s grace to teach fools like me that we should never be surprised where God’s grace is at work. I’m writing not just from prison, but from one of the most notorious prisons in America. Angola Prison in Louisiana was once considered the darkest prison in the country. Ninety percent of the men sent here will leave in a casket.
Seventeen years ago, within a prison population of roughly 5000 men, there were 500 assaults among the prisoners in a year. A year ago there were 50. Three things happened in the interim. Warden Cain came here thirteen years ago. He determined to treat the men with respect. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary opened an extension within the prison. They determined to feed the men with the Word of God. And Lyndon Azcuna, of Awana Ministries, began training the men to be godly fathers. Or, to put it another way, one thing happened- the Spirit blew where it wished.
The Spirit did not merely blow into Angola prison. Instead, He blew into the hearts of the elect who live therein. The glory of this story, in other words, isn’t the prison, but the prisoners. I was privileged not only to preach and teach to these men, but to learn from them. I was welcomed in their love. I was both shamed and fed by their joy. I walked in the midst of their peace. I was humbled by their patience. I was touched by their kindness. Walking through Angola was like walking through an abundant orchard, with the fruit of the Spirit swelling round about me. I got to enter into Kyle’s passion. I got to drink deep of George’s contentment. I got to draw strength from Big Lou. The men I met there were not merely worthy of our attention and our prayers. They are not merely worthy of our respect. Instead I came away hoping that by that same grace I might one day be like these men. They are clearly my spiritual superiors. Is it just possible that Jesus calls us to visit the saints in prison for the sake of we visitors, rather than for the sake of the prisoners?
God is at work, in all the places we ought to expect. Where there is brokenness, He is there. Where there is despair, He is there. Where there is suffering, He is there. Where there is great sin, He is there equipped with great mercy. Which means we have reason to hope.