I awake at 4 a.m. to a piercing alarm that jars me from my warm bed. Excited for what the day will bring, I start my day with coffee to get the senses going and move into scripture and prayer for the day’s feeding. I know this day is special and my journey will bring me to a place where God is already at work and I am just a sojourner in this place many call home. I am on the empty road at 5a.m. and start the two and a half hour drive to Avenal State Prison.
I arrive and get checked in at the main gate to be given an ID card (Brown Card) that allows access to the whole facility. The gated sally port slides open as I move through the break in the electric fence area, as warning signs of “do not touch” greet me along the way. The prison is over 2 miles all around and I need to be in various places at different times. The temperature is already rising and I know today is going to be around 108 degrees of forehead burning sun. As soon as I walk in, there is a 6 seater golf cart with an officer and an inmate driver to escort us to our destination.
We are headed to B yard, which is a complex of 3 housing units and one yard that serves these units. There is one entry facility where you go in that gives you access to two connected yards. The man working the control booth hands out my keys and alarm I have to where in case of emergency. He opens the heavy Steel Barred door that allows me to head down a long hallway that has two heavy steel doors that go right or left that leads you to the yards. I get to my yard and the officer let’s me in. I scan the yard to see the activity that is going on.
This day, there is no one out on the yard. The officer tells me that they have a Chicken sale and training that might delay my services. I head into the chapel and open up my Bible and start reading. Next thing I know, an inmate I know well comes in and greets me with a smile. This was a God ordained moment, as we were delayed in our service starting for 1.5 hours. This brother and I got to sit and he shared his whole life story with me. It was an amazing time. He shared, cried and walked through every part of his life, even sharing his crime, which I don’t ever ask about. I prayed for him and he sang a song which he wrote as he strummed his guitar. It was a very special moment.
Guys started to pour out of their cells and we kicked off a quick and short service. I preached for 25 minutes and said my goodbyes as I embraced my brother who shared his story. God rescued this man from some pretty dark places and now he is leading other inmates to Christ. I scurried off the yard in a quick fashion to reach the 2nd yard. I hadn’t been on this yard before. This was a Spanish only service and they were going to translate my message as we went. Men started to come into the chapel and they started to sing songs in Spanish worshipping the Lord. I felt the Lord as they sang to him in Spanish, there is something powerful about men in prison singing to the Lord.
The inmates introduced me and I preached for 40 minutes. The men were loving the teaching on the S.E.E.D. Model that we use to train volunteers for Mercy and Grace. When I was done, I got to say good bye’s and they asked when can I come back. I felt greatly appreciated and I was appreciative as well! The 3rd service is our normal service we do monthly. This is an SNY yard, special needs for gang drop outs, amongst other groups such as child molesters, rapists or other sex crimes. I taught on Forgiveness and an inmate I asked to speak shared his story of forgiveness in his life. I used part of a sermon my wife, Renee wrote on forgiveness. The men came up after and said it really helped them and I was able to have a great conversation with one of our brothers on questions he had. Overall three men accepted Christ and it was an amazing day! By the time I left it was well over 108 degrees and I set sail for home! What a blessing this ministry is and men’s hearts are being changed!