Sunday, December 7, 2008

My Visit to SCI (prison)

[Note: The words that are underlined are links to other web sites with more information about those words]

When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" Matthew 25:38-40

On Saturday afternoon, for the fourth consecutive year, the Wings ministry had a presence at the Southeastern Correctional Facility just outside of Lancaster. This was my third time in attendance. The concept is simple: Allow inmates a time to interact with their families in a relaxed, fun setting and allow volunteers the opportunity to share the love of Christ with all of them.

The founder of Wings, Ann Edenfield-Sweet knows what it is like to be the family of a prisoner. To raise her children without a father and what's more, to be ostracized by everyone (including her church) for the crimes of her husband. She wrote a book about this experience and then turned it into a way of serving God and helping others with the Wings ministry. In our case, she organizes the volunteers and works with the warden of the prison to provide a three hour long party. It goes something like this:

12-12:30 - Introduction and ice breaker games

12:30-1 - Crafts & cookie decorating for kids and parents. Visiting time for everyone else

1-1:45 - pizza, cookies and punch for everyone. Guests are grouped in circles of ten and Wings volunteers spread out and minister, eat and visit with their group.

1:45- Group Game (decorate a human angel in the group with the supplies provided-see one example below)2-3 - Activity that involves the angels and focuses on the Christmas story. Scripture is read and a short sermon if given. Closing prayer and a few minutes of visitation remain.

In short, this is one of the most rewarding 6 hours of ministry I do every year. I say six hours because if you have ever been to a prison, you will understand the bookeeping and security involved in getting someone into the prison (not a lot unlike the airport!!) Where else are there so many hurting people who need (and some even want) to hear about the saving grace of Jesus Christ? I am amazed by the boldness given to me by God during this time. I have been invited to share the hope and love of Jesus Christ with hurting people who are thankful for my presence. Can you ask for a better deal?

My heart is so full after this day and this year was the most amazing yet. I had the opportunity to bring my photography equipment into the prison and set up a studio to take pictures of inmates with their families. I will give each inmate two copies of their portrait to send to whomever they choose thanks to the generosity of some donors who will help cover the cost of the printing.

When Carolyn and I started our business three years ago, an earnest prayer was that God would allow us to use this equipment and our talents to bless others. We have actively sought ways to do this and appreciate every opportunity to serve the Lord when He has given us so much. This is yet another example of His provision. What really melts my heart?

How about this FOUR DAY OLD BABY who got to meet his dad for the first time:

This little guy was all smiles as he played with his dad in a way not usually possible during regular visitation. He also brought his 6 week old brother who met his dad too.
This one really touched my heart. This nine year old girl posed for a picture and then walked over to me and asked if she could see it. After I showed it to her she looked up at me, her eyes gleaming, and said, "I love my Dad."

I am humbled again by the blessing of my husband who knows that his girls love and need him. I pray that these guys see it too.

The last half hour of the program is difficult for me to witness and I was thankful to be able to have the distraction of tearing down my equipment. It's a quiet time after the crescendo of excitement that came directly before. It is the transition from being a regular family spending a fun afternoon together to the realization that some people are leaving their loved ones behind - in some cases forever. When Andy and I went to different colleges, our weekends were marked by this same spirit. Friday night I'd be bursting with excitement to see him. Saturday we'd have so much fun together. Sunday it was like a cloud had parked over us, knowing that our time together was almost over. Multiply that by 10 and this is the sadness that I witness those last few minutes.

It's all worth it. It's the reality of the situation and it's an important part in the process of consequences to realize that the inmate did something that separates them from their family. Of course, my hope is that they realize that the greatest tragedy is the sin that separates them from their heavenly father. Those that can understand that may be ready to hear how Jesus Christ came to make reconciliation possible. The hope of spending eternity with Him is the greatest gift I can give.


BoufMom9 said...

Wow! That is just remarkable. We too have a few women in my church who were made to leave their prior churches due to the crimes of their spouses and it is so sad (and humbling) I think this is an incredible thing you are doing.

ps In order to send the hands to Tuesday, just send me an email and i will give you the address :)

gail-40 said...

i am the mother of the little girl who told her she loved her daddy i'd like to have copies of that pic. i will pay for them if you can contact me at thia email