Sunday, February 24, 2013


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In 2011, hubby and I joined our prison guard friend, Jeff, at the Cleveland women's correctional facility.  We led a Christmas-themed worship service with him, complete with traditional carols and a message.  The experience was so memorable then, we knew we wanted to come back.

One year and two months later, we made our return.

After going through security, hubby, Rachel, and I made our way to a cafeteria-turned-chapel, with at least 50 women dressed in blue, sitting in plastic chairs, clapping for us as we entered the room.  It was a generous welcome, and similar to the kindness we experienced the first time around.

Our facilitator, Robin, started the program with prayer, before handing the reigns over to a lively woman named Liz.  She stood in front of a small group of ladies who sat to the side of the stage.  At her leading, they all got up on their feet and proceeded to clap and sway and belt out the music of a gospel choir. 

Those who followed the choir were dressed in white t-shirts and flowing skirts.  I remembered them from before: the worship dancers.  I quickly pulled Rachel to the back of the room and whispered in her ear, "You don't want to miss this."  The dancers moved in unison to a song on CD about running towards Jesus = freedom.  My eyes filled with tears, as I watched the smiles on their faces and the intention in their movements.  I fully believed that they believed the words they were dancing to.

Did I mention this was an enthusiastic room of women?  

I found it easy to shout out "Hallelujahs" and "Amens," raise my hands, stomp my feet, laugh and pray at will in this place.  It was comfortable because they were so engaged.  This also made leading our time of singing that much more fun.  During that hour, we led them in contemporary choruses and hymns like "Amazing Grace," "How Great Thou Art," and "Soon and Very Soon."

Oh goodness, they were so animated!  Standing up randomly, some times altogether, adding descants and harmonies, singing with their whole selves - they were all in.  At times it was hard to hear ourselves singing (with microphones!) because their voices were so loud.  It was a beautiful sound.  Two different inmates even came up spontaneously to lead a song, including the classic, "Jesus Loves Me." I have never heard that melody sung with so much passion before today.  Rachel and I sat in the audience while Chris preached about temptation and knowing we are loved by God.

And we gave hugs to a few of the gals before we left.

Today I am especially grateful for my tangible freedom, and mindful of the ladies we met with prison uniforms on.  I hope they are experiencing their own kind of freedom, somehow.

If not today, some day.  

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray --
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
- Charles Wesley

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