2020 was rough. We all know that. We all lived it. I am not sure most of us have even been able to process how deeply the last couple of years have affected us spiritually, mentally, relationally…etc. While these years have brought out the best in some people, they have served to bring a lot of ugliness to the surface as well.
And somehow, in the midst of all of the chaos and cruelty breaking out in the world, God kept on working. Not only in spite of what was happening, but through it. It was during all of this craziness that He moved me into the ministry where I currently have the honor of serving incarcerated men and women. (And lest you should think, “wow, you’re so amazing to do that,” let me state this clearly: I do not deserve to be doing this. I’ve never been nor will ever be worthy to sit with these precious ones and hear their stories and walk with them toward healing. There are other people who would be better at this than I am, but for reasons only He knows, God asked me to do this. And that is grace. And as always, with grace, I don’t deserve it. But what a joy to get to be part of what He is doing. It is easy to look at people in different kinds of ministry that seem more intense than everyday life and to put them on a pedestal. Please don’t. I grew up in the glass house, ministry family – the missionary family whose pictures were on everyone’s fridge and were always on stage, in the spotlight at every church we visited. The higher the pedestal, the harder the fall. Human beings were not made to withstand the weight of praise. Praise belongs to God and only God. It glorifies Him. It breaks us.)
So, as the world was moving through the thick of COVID and people were coming unglued, churches were closing down, friendships were dying from neglect, the men’s prison opened back up. We went back inside. Week after week we kept running classes, meeting with men, carrying on the ministry God had called us to. I jumped into my assignment of launching the first Spanish speaking group to go through our program. This involved translating our curriculum and recruiting volunteers who were fluent in Spanish, and able to teach. I went in and out of the prison, meeting with Hispanic inmates, planning out our classes, translating, and having them help me edit. Because I was our only staff member who spoke Spanish, this work fell mostly on me. It got to be a lot. It got really hard. In fact, it was overwhelming me. I remember one day, I was going to attend a Spanish church service in the men’s prison in hopes of recruiting volunteers to teach our Spanish classes. This was the first service they had after opening back up. On the outside, I’m sure I looked like I always do. Ready for the day, walking into the prison with my yellow bag of books, greeting everyone I pass by, and trying to be upbeat. If you could have seen me in the spiritual realm you would have seen a different picture. You would see someone being crushed spiritually, losing one spiritual battle after another, feeling defeated and weak and alone. My spirit was exhausted. I looked less like a spiritual warrior and more like someone limping toward the battlefield, dragging their sword behind them because they have no strength to even lift it off the ground. That was me as I made my way into the prison chapel and sat down on the front row.
And then they came. A Spanish speaking church from Kansas City came walking into that chapel, and everything changed. I can’t even try to explain how the spiritual atmosphere in that room shifted when they came in. It was electric, and so powerful. They began doing worship with the inmates who had gathered. They read scripture with passion and authority. They preached the Words of the God of heaven. And I sat there on the front row and wept. After SO long of having no volunteers allowed inside, it was like a mighty army wearing our colors had come rushing past me to take it from here. The Lord just spoke to my spirit, “Reinforcements are here. Rest my precious one.” And I did. I might have been the most broken person in that room. After the service, I walked out to the parking lot with them. I told them what that service had meant to me and how deeply discouraged I had been. They embraced me. I received bear hugs from complete strangers, some of the ladies straight up kissed me on the cheek, Hispanic-lady style, and they circled around me and prayed over me. They strengthened me. They held up my arms. And I kept going through that hard season.
I could share example after example of how the Body of Christ has shown up time and time again to give me the strength to keep doing things that are far too hard for me to do. One Sunday our pastor’s wife told me “The Enemy wants you to believe you are alone in this. That is a lie. You are not alone. We are standing with you.” She had no idea how badly I needed to hear that. A missionary lady from a closed country singled me out at a women’s event, and after hearing what I do, looked straight into my eyes, pointed at me and said DO.NOT.STOP. She didn’t know that on the way to that event that morning, I had prayed and asked God to show me clearly if I should even keep doing this ministry. I have walked out to my car after being in the prison and had text messages waiting for me that are so specific to what I just dealt with inside the facility that it is almost funny.
Why am I sharing all of this? Because I have been reminded so much lately that we walk out God’s calling in our lives by His Spirit IN us and His people AROUND us. It matters that we have people in our lives who will hold up our arms when our strength fails. It matters that we have people who will lock shields with us in prayer and go to battle with us. It matters that we have people who will sit in the dirt with us when we fall and speak truth to us and help us stand back up. It matters that we have people who will push back the darkness pressing in on us and speak truth against lies the enemy whispers to us. This is how we walk. We need each other.
The minute we say to ourselves, “I’ve got this,” is the beginning of our downfall. We don’t have this. We never did. But God does. And He works through His people as we give each other strength and courage to keep running.