Blessings and Transformation
Published Oct. 10, 2012 @ 6 a.m.
This past week was very eventful for me. First, I was privileged to participate in the baptism of five young people on Wednesday night. No, this was not the result of a revival and singing a final song until they came down just to get to go home again. This as a decision each of these youth had spent a long time thinking about and in some cases simply waiting for an opportunity to arise. These young people are a part of community youth group that meets at our church. Mike Holley and Perry Smith did the actual baptism. I anointed each young person with oil as a symbol of the infilling of God’s Holy Spirit. The whole event was awesome!
On Thursday we began the Epiphany Walk #11 at the Garza County Juvenile Detention Center. Twice each year for the last six years people from all over the area have given up a weekend of their lives to be a part of the team for this Epiphany walk. Many come from as far away as Denver City and at least one came from Olton and one came from the Dallas area. During the walks that I have worked the furthest anyone has come to work the walk was from the Tyler area. It wasn’t so amazing that they came to work the walk. But when they came for a number of the reunions that happen one Saturday a month, I was truly amazed. The reason they did this? God had filled them with God’s love for those young men in that facility.
(As an aside, in my years of working in prison ministry I have often met cynicism and a certain hardness that I know comes “with the territory” in many of the officers and administrators of our prisons. I do not say this as judgment. I learned long ago that their jobs are difficult and they have been taken advantage of many times. However, in Garza County we can be especially proud of the men and women who work at the Juvenile Detention facility. They are not “easy” but they have a genuine care and love for the young men and women in their charge. They are actively seeking the best for those God has put in their charge. This is no easy task. Many of their residents would fit the definition of “incorrigible” well. But they still love them and that is a testament to the character of those working in our facility. Without the support of the staff of a prison, ministry is difficult to do at best. The staff of the Garza County Detention Facility makes Epiphany easy.)
Epiphany Walk #11 was really special. I have worked off and on in prison ministry for 18 years. I have done close to thirty different weekends during that time. I have never had the opportunity to be on a weekend that included girls as pilgrims. We had three women “stars” (as we call the participants in Epiphany) on this walk! And yes, they either gave their lives to Christ or rededicated their lives to Christ on this walk as did many of the young men. It is so wonderful to have the privilege of getting to see God work in the lives of people as powerfully as God works in Epiphany (or in Kairos during my time in that ministry).
On Sunday, I also had the privilege to participate in a joint worship service with Post United Methodist Church and Caprock Springs Church. We came together because of a mission that we both participate in; Circle of Hope Ministries and the Grace Center in Malawi Africa. Once again we are dealing with young people. Families and children without hope in Africa are being given hope through this amazing ministry. Families and individuals in Post and throughout the United States are finding their lives challenged and enriched by God through participation in this ministry as well. Post has been one of the most integral communities in supporting the children of the Grace Center through sponsorship and from time to time special gifts to help make ministry happen. A number of our people have been to Africa to help with the work.
I write all of this not to show you how busy I am but to show you how good God is. I have done nothing to deserve to be able to participate in all that God is doing in the lives of young people throughout the world. But God invites me to participate in God’s work anyway. I have discovered that life with Jesus Christ is not about how good I am; but rather, how good God is! The Lord has no reason to let me take part in all of this other than God’s love for me. There are times when I step back and contemplate what all God has let me be a part of and I become a little teary eyed and overwhelmed. I cannot imagine the grace and love that God has for me.
I remember when God was first working in my life to go and do prison ministry. I don’t mind saying that prisons and the people in them intimidated me. I didn’t see myself as having much in common with the wards of our prison system. Many who participate in these ministries can honestly say that the biggest difference between many of the residents of our prisons and them is that they didn’t get caught. But I can’t say that. I was never adventurous enough to put myself at risk in breaking the law.
Finally, when I said yes to God after I had heard Matthew 25 and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats for the umpteenth jillionth time in one year I still had two conditions. God would have to find a ministry that I could be a part of that would teach me how to do ministry and God would have to find a way for me to participate both in time and money. About a month later we moved to Pampa and the first two people I met there asked me to go on a Kairos walk with them. I was done.
I remember going to my first team meeting thinking what a great favor I was doing for God and after this first walk I could tell the Lord I had fulfilled God’s mission for me. I could check off “visiting those in prison” from my “have to do to get into heaven” list. Everyone I have told this in prison ministry still gets a big laugh out of that. They laugh because they know where I am coming from. I laugh with them because we all know how arrogant and mistaken we were that first time we answered God’s call to ministry. God doesn’t need Scott Richards to do prison ministry. God can do prison ministry by raising up the rocks of the yard if that’s how God chooses to do ministry. No, I was not doing God any favors. God was doing me a favor. I have never done anything, including going to Africa, that has grown me as much spiritually as going to prison.
If you need God to transform your life let God use you as God transforms other lives.