It has been a month since we began this journey in the prison. Each Thursday evening we have had a service of worship, word, and table, and each Friday we have spent two hours of study in our sacred text. Our presence is becoming known, and men are coming.
It was Thursday July 27 2017. The first night inside four men came, and they were skeptical to say the least. They questioned the idea of starting a church inside, and they questioned me on my sincerity, commitment, and theology. I came away that night wondering if anyone would be back the next evening for our first Bible study,
As I drove to the prison Friday evening I was still uncertain if anyone would show up. But when I got there, all four of them came back, and they brought three more. We began our first study night with a text from Zechariah chapter nine beginning at verse twelve which reads, “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”
I sat in amazement as these men the men became engaged in the process and came to realize that they had all been reading and studying this book on their own apparently long before I got here. but for possibly the first time they were engaging with me and with each other in the process. The two hours we had went by too fast and They had to return to their abodes and I had to leave the prison and go home. But I could barely contain my excitement at the level of discourse I had been a part of that evening.
The second week, by ones and twos more men came. That Thursday we had to bring another long table to hold the thirteen of us there for the Bible study. and so it has continued to grow.
In one short month a church was born inside the Mark Luttrell Transitional Center, a Tennessee state prison for men. What began twelve years ago as an inkling of what God was calling me to has become a reality, and I am both excited and feeling overwhelmed. The men are beginning to talk about doing more as the church, discussing ways that we can begin discipleship training among the newer brothers that are joining us, and ways that they can draw more men to us.
We are actually becoming not just a church, but ‘The Church’ inside. And it is incredibly soul satisfying to be on the front line with these men as it happens. What began as only an inkling between my ears, that I questioned and wrestled with for a good while before I said ‘yes … send me’ has taken on a life of its own.
We are Prisoners of Hope Christian Church (DOC), a living growing congregation in the prison, and I can hardly wait to see how God is going to use us to not just engage with the men while they are there, but to give them the love, support, and encouragement they need when they are released.