I have been involved in local jail ministry for the most part of thirty years. It is not glorious work. It is not scary as some might think. I have never felt threatened and most of the guys are usually respectable and appreciative.
The jail we visit is set up like a dormitory with bunks on two sides and tables in the middle. Lately, our jail ministry team has been alternating weeks and I have been going alone twice per month.
There is nothing fancy of what we do. No fanfare, no bells and whistles. Just an old buzzard of a preacher telling the story of Jesus to a bunch of jail birds.
The jailer escorts me through the sally port, buzzes us through a couple of locked doors to the guts of the jail, and then opens the dormitory door with his big key. I walk in unannounced, and clang goes the heavy door behind me. All the inmates who are awake, look my way wandering what this old gray-headed man is doing in here. I am not wearing striped or bright orange britches, so they know I am a visitor.
Since it is a municipal jail, most of the inmates are a new batch who do not know me. I greet them and invite them to join me at one of the tables to talk about the Bible.
On this night there are about seven guys in the pod. A few are sleeping or pretending to be asleep. Four joined me at the table. Our discussion tonight was based on Romans 5:8 (NKJV), “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We talked about Christ dying on the cross for us before our time, yet for all our sins. No one has sinned too much for Jesus to save because He has already died for all our sins. If we receive Him by faith, we receive His free forgiveness. So, I drove that nail in quite deep (no pun intended).
I also threw in the beloved scripture of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” I emphasized the love God had for us all. The love of God was demonstrated by Christ’s death.
The men in jail are usually not shy and like to discuss, ask questions, and share their life and troubles. Their remarks are usually great steppingstones to the issues we need to discuss. One guy was very shy, mild-natured, and barely said anything. One fellow liked to talk but made little sense. The third young guy seemed to be smart, quoted a lot of Bible, and made good sense when he talked. The fourth guy left the table fifteen minutes into our discussion.
At one point, the young smart guy just started crying. The Holy Spirit just hammered something home. This happens more in jail ministry than in church. He had once accepted Christ but ran his life into a ditch. He was now regrouping his tangled life and was repentant of his lifestyle of addiction and trouble.
When it came time to end our ministry time, I prayed for all of them. As I got up to leave, two of the guys heartedly shook my hand and thanked me for coming and spending some time with them.
The young smart guy with his eyes still moist, followed me to the door, looked deep into my eyes, and said, “Thank you, tonight you brought me hope!”
When I was pulling out of the parking lot with a joyful heart, I was thinking, “Just think, when I was leaving my house, I didn’t really want to come tonight. It was just one of those nights! But I’m glad I did.” It made me have hope too!
Everyone needs hope, everyone needs Jesus!
Yours on the Journey,
Harry L. Whitt
P.S. Thanks to the local authorities who allow us to minister at the jail.