First time in prison
I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Matthew 25:36
As a member of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast Commission on Prison Ministry, I have learned the importance of the above verse.
The first time I was approved (a process that took six weeks to complete) to visit the Northwest Florida Reception Center and Annex at Chipley, Florida for a Kairos reunion, I jokingly asked my church to pray that I would get out the same day. Upon arriving at the center on May 6th at 7:15 am, I was quite concerned. There were eleven lay Christians on our team. Once in the prison chapel, where our meetings are held, we were warmly welcomed by the 12 residents. The resident leader opened with a prayer and song. After a brief, inspiring message led by the residents, we broke up into table discussions. At each table, the topic of the day was, “How has God Blessed You Today?”. My first thought was, how can a resident be blessed today? Some of these men have been incarcerated for over twenty years.
We went around our table. The first resident pointed to a table in the back corner of room and said, “I am blessed because it was at that table during the Kairos weekend that the Spirit of God came over me and forgave me." For me, this was a true vision and realization that we all have a forgiving God.
As we continued around the table, everyone had a blessing for which to be thankful. The resident to my left had been incarcerated for over 25 years. As he touched my arm he said, “I am blessed by God because this man has given up his Saturday, with his family, to be my only visitor this month." Admittedly, I truly felt the Spirit of God as he touched me and I remembered the words in Matthew “when in prison you visited me."
As the day ended and we gathered, held hands and sang, ”Surely the Presence of the Lord is in the Place." I knew what a special gift I had been given.
The Commission on Prison Ministry seeks to minister to those incarcerated, those who watch them, and the families of all those involved. There are many ways you can support this important ministry. I would encourage you to learn more at www.diocgc.org/commissions-task-forces to find out how you could help residents who have found God and receive this same blessing.