Ministry occasionally has the tendency to be anything but glamorous. Sometimes it’s filthy, harsh, and discouraging.
Tonight was one of those filthy, harsh, seemingly discouraging urban ministry times.
In a large room with eighteen adjoining closed off rooms, eighteen young men between the ages of fifteen and eighteen are all locked away in a juvenile detention center for a variety of different offenses. In the large room there are three different areas. In one area a movie is on which captivates the boys’ attention. Competing for their attention in the next area over is a screen with video games. And the final area is a wide open and empty room, except for a few small tables with chairs around them. Profanity and vulgar conversation topics are raging as we walked into the unit. Bible in hand, the inmates knew I was there to lead Bible study for whoever wanted to come. One brave soul walked up to me and sincerely asked me to stay. Before I could answer, he was off to grab chairs for the nearby table.
I had been up on the unit only a few short minutes before the first verbal fight broke out. The security in the unit, unmoved by the event, responded with a sharp scolding. After a few more minutes, the argument that never really ended intensified and the movie was officially over, as blatantly decided by the guard. Still just sitting at the table with my single recipient of Bible study, he continued to ask questions and look on his fellow jail mates with scorn and disgust. Upon request, we talked about sin and the different consequences that so actively pursue it. After a few verses were found, he quickly said he already knew it all. After all, as he bluntly pointed out, he was the one in jail with two kids, not me. I got to walk out whenever I wanted without the stress of an upcoming court date or threat of being moved to the other jail. Yes, I have made bad choices before, but none of them have landed me in jail or anywhere close to that.
The tension in the room was rising as another verbal fight broke out and was turning physical at an escalating rate. The security guards jumped in immediately and the two boys involved were put in their secluded rooms. Security loudly and coarsely ordered the others into their rooms as well. However, the young man sitting with me was shown grace, as he was not any part of the problem.
Imagine sitting at a small table placed against the wall in between the two doors which sealed off two furious young men from the rest of the world. Neither of these prisoners were thrilled at their current location and were making their unhappiness known to the rest of the world through their loud protesting. While these unnerving distractions are blaring in the background, imagine sitting with the one inmate who intently wanted to understand more of God’s Word. Our Bibles were lying open on the table and I struggled to focus as he read the first few verses of John chapter one.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
I asked if he had any questions about what he had just read. Nothing specific came to mind for either of us, but he had a confused and concerned look on his face.
Darkness. We were surrounded by it. By this time, the two guys in their cells were angrily beating their fists against the door and verbally abusing the security guards who could not let them out. My new friend continued to read boldly...
There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
My heart was slowly breaking for these young men who so desperately need a positive example in their lives. As the yelling continued from within the individual cells, I hesitantly looked up at the clock. Part of me wanted to remain in the unit since I was working with someone who was interested, but another part of me was getting nervous and tense in the hostile environment. I was safe, so that was not my concern, but I was still a little uncomfortable. We stayed and finished up the section we were reading.
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
We talked about the final few verses for a few minutes before it was time to leave. The phrase that stuck out to me was “and dwelt among us”.
Question: Who would want to live among criminals for the sake of loving and saving them?
Answer: The Word who became flesh would, did, and still does...