I was an obvious target. Or so I thought. The only white guy to have been sighted in over 3 months. Walking through the gates, I suddenly felt vulnerable. 3200 inmates in a packed prison yard and the only guard I could see was having a smoke in the tower to my left. I had this feeling that if someone wanted to cause trouble or get a reputation, I would be the right target.
In reality, no one really seemed that interested in us. A dozen inmates were shooting a basketball; others were shading under a tree from the 30 degree sun; some were watering a small garden which grew to the side of the main accommodation building. Most were minding their own business just killing time. I nodded my “pagi” to a few guys standing beside the pathway, and their scowl gave way to a nod and a yellow-toothed grin.
There were two things that surprised me, even shocked me: Firstly, that there were so many men here. In a prison facility made for 1500 men, 3200 were crammed in here. Some didn’t even have their own bed. It just seemed like a terrible waste of life behind bars, a mere number in a system of payback and retribution. But that wasn’t as shocking as my second surprise…
I was visiting the inside of this prison with a dozen chaplains who run a chapel service and Bible study every single week. These people are salt of the earth – truly they were the ones Jesus spoke about in his Matthew 25 parable when he said,
“I was sick and in prison and you visited me…” These chaplains use our SGM Lifewords’ material to share God’s word with inmates, and this day we were going to encourage the few inmates who had found Christ behind bars. I thought there would be 15-20 of them, but as we opened the doors to the chapel, my jaw dropped.
Over 250 men were lined in the pews, arms raised and singing, “puji Tuhan, Yesus Kristus” (praise the Lord Jesus Christ) in a way that I had never seen grown men do before. It honestly took my breath away, seeing hardened men with tattoos, scars, and singlets worshipping the saviour, redeemer, their new Lord and friend.
Roni was one of the guys we met (sorry, no photos allowed). He had served 2 of 8 years for a drug-related offense. Last year, he was given a “You Matter” booklet. He didn’t read it for more than a week, but one evening he was bored and started flicking the pages. He soon sat up a little straighter, thought a little harder until something started to happen inside. He felt something stirring in his chest, and soon he found himself weeping, unaware that the words of this booklet were speaking into his shrunken soul.
“I didn’t know what to think. I knew there was a God but I didn’t really know who He was. Suddenly this little book was telling me that he was the Father who accepts the rebellious son. He was kind and forgiving. He was willing to love even when his son didn’t deserve it. That son is me. In that moment, I felt free like I never have before. And my Christian mate told me that it’s the truth that will set me free.”
His arms were higher than all the others. For those two hours, it was as though we were just like every other Christian in a church service, except these guys seemed to have a better understanding of salvation, redemption, undeserved love, grace and mercy. They inspired me and I was blessed – all from a visit in which we were to bring a blessing.