People often wonder what happens when I step foot in the prison so here is what took place on Sunday, September 25, 2016… On my way to the Philadelphia prison I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and purchased 3 dozen donuts. Then I pull up in the prison parking lot and I walk in the prison and greet the guards and walk through the metal detectors similar to the ones at the airport. I have to sign in at the front desk. Then a guard will search me and search my belongings. Most prisons don’t allow for any cell phones or weapons which is understandable. A lot of prisons do not allow for wearing of shorts and you cannot wear the same color as the inmates. Once I get into the prison I am led to the chapel by a guard. The chapel yesterday was basically like a classroom but sometimes prisons have actual chapels. Once I get in with my Bible, another Bible to give away, notes, tracts, and donuts I set up in the chapel (I get the donuts approved before I come). About 15 minutes later the inmates are led in. I stand at the door and shake the hands of each man as they walk in and say “welcome” or “God bless you” and “thank you for coming”. Church service cannot be forced on an inmate by law so they have to choose to come, so I thank them for coming. The men are usually very thankful for outside visitors and very glad to come but every now and then you get the guys who just come because there is nothing else to do or they come just to hang out with their buddy. You might even get a visit from an opposing religion…I have had some encounters with followers of Islam that were unfortunate but our God got the glory! Be that as it may, once they grab a donut and sit down I give them a chance to eat. They love “outside food” or “real food”…because it is a taste of the world they remember. Afterwards we start singing songs just like at church. I sing about 3 songs with the men and often times recite a Christian poem I have written or do a Christian rap. Some of the men are “churched” and some are not so a little extra entertainment is welcomed. After praise and worship I have invocation and prayer. After that I have testimony. That is the chance for the inmates to speak for 10-15 minutes. They really appreciate the opportunity to share how God has been good in their lives. Then I preach for 30-45 minutes (yesterday was on Matthew 18:23-35). My sermon is just like a sermon in the church however at the end I allow for questions for about 10-15 minutes. The reason I do this is I find that inmates may not get access to a minister during the week or by text or email so I let them ask their questions. There are many raging theological debates in the prison which can be challenging to answer on the fly, but yesterday the toughest question was….”If my wife cheated on me while I was incarcerated should I forgive her?” After question and answer I give the invitation to Christian discipleship. Then I have a benediction and closing prayer. I shake their hands on the way out of the door and many times at the end men may want to say things to you. Many of them do not often get ample time with someone outside of the prison so they can be aggressive at the end when it is time to go…not in a bad way necessarily but you might feel a little like a rock star in the sense that they want to come thank you, maybe ask you to stay in touch, maybe ask you for a favor (which can run the gamut), shake your hand, etc. I tell the men up front I will send them a Bible and write them letters. It is good to establish boundaries. I have had inmates ask me to do everything from visit their sick mother to pay off a drug dealer that they owed money to whom was threatening their family. And then I am escorted out of the prison by a guard. I sign out at the front and its back to life as usual.
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