Free, behind the bars…

The mic felt cool and solid in my hand. 

I felt calm and unflustered facing this crowd of men, all dressed in blue jumpsuits.
The room felt small, the painted block walls closing in tightly around us.
But in spite of the walls and locks,
and slamming metal gates that echoed down the long empty halls,
the room was bursting with joy.

 These men were inmates. Locked up because of something they had done, bad choices they had made, people they had injured. 

But as I looked out over the crowd, warmth and joy shone back at me.
Coming into this week of singing and ministering to inmates,
I had thought about the darkness and anger and despair I would see looking back at me. 

And I did see it in every prison we went to.
What I was not prepared for was seeing my brothers,
my family in Jesus, behind these bars.
They smiled back at me now,
warming my heart and calming that tiny little knot in my stomach.
Smiles stretched wide. 

The music began.
Alive, real, these words of hope and freedom.
The strength of ministering as a team blew me away each service.
The power of Christ shared is breathtaking.

The lyrics punctuated the silence in the room,
and instantly smiles grew wide.
The men knew this song, this was THEIR song.
The chorus came, and the choir joined,

“This is how it feels to be free.
This is what it means to know that I am forgiven…”
My eyes closed tight, my hand pressed against my chest.
This spoke my soul language…
I opened my eyes, to see the men lost in this,
their song, hands keeping time, faces aglow.

It was heaven. 

In our five services behind bars, we experienced a lot of answered prayers.
Everything from getting vital keyboard pedal, cord and music
delivered UPS at the very last minute
to getting all our equipment in,
to watching God move and empower us as group.
But this moment of worshipping with our brothers behind bars,
singing the same songs, hands lifted heavenward, was unrivaled.
It was perfection.

In prison? Oh yes.
Perfection is this, the redeeming touch of Jesus on lives so marred by sin.
Men condemned by judges, now forgiven and transformed by their Creator.
Faces radiated joy regardless of surroundings.
Freedom, I learned this week, has nothing to do
with whether we are locked up or not.
Freedom is a matter of the heart.
And I kept meeting these stunningly free men, still serving time.
Locked away from family and loved ones, they radiated the touch of Christ.
And in these cold halls of justice and no mercy,
 hearts freed by mercy spoke powerfully.

This IS how it feels to be free.
To be forgiven. To be loved. To be made one with Christ.

“This is what it means to know that I am forgiven…”
This is freedom.

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