Dressed in the same plain garb, the women were scanning me from head to toe as the sunlight washed through the barred windows into the meeting room. I was to speak hope to them, 20 women incarcerated for stealing, cheating, bank robbery and what not.
Their complexions were pale from months with little sunlight but surprisingly smooth, the result I was told, from a mainly vegetarian diet. Prison food had little meat as apparently it increased aggression.
Our team had put up a little mime: a young girl looking for love, meeting a sophisticated older man (actually a woman dressed up in trousers and her husband’s shirt as men weren’t allowed into women’s prisons) who wins her heart, plays with it, tossing it up and down until it crashes onto the ground. The girl is devastated.
The watching women knew that scene only too well.
In a few seconds, it would be my turn. Heart thumping, I took the mike. I was to share about my own particular devastation in life — that just like them, I had my dreams dashed to the ground by people who ignored their own conscience. This was my first prison sermon. Would they listen?
My mentor had told me to speak from the heart; don’t speak vague theories, they’ve enough of those; they who have had to face the harsh consequences of their decisions, want reality. Not fables.
So I spoke about my particular devastation, my subsequent search for meaning in life and encountering a series of dead ends until ultimately God intruded. His abrupt, miraculous interruption marked the beginning of a long walk from a cold, dark place into warm sunshine. And they listened, some of their eyes glistening. At the end, not knowing how they would react, and being told by my mentor to not expect much, I asked: “Would you like to receive Hope?”
They rose from their seats so fast I was bowled over. The team saw, came in, and started praying for each one.
I had stepped out of my comfort zone. Great was the reward.