The first miracle to getting in to Pelican Bay State Prison yesterday was just getting to the gate. Heavy rainstorms for the past month had repeatedly washed out the coastal road that winds through the redwoods in Northern California to the prison. Huge rock walls prevent most of the landslides, but when a tree with a trunk the size of a small house topples over the road it takes a crew of engineers and heavy equipment operators to clear the path.
Once we're inside clearing the path for the Gospel to take root in an inmate is a big part of our mission. As my Pastor, Donald Wesley, used to say , "The problem with Christianity is always the Christians, never Christ." And the problem with representing the Gospel is a lot of preachers use it as an excuse to browbeat people about the 'do's and don'ts' they perceive to be the core values of Christ's message.
Presenting the true nature of God is why Jesus came to earth, and presenting the true message of Christ is the least we on earth can do to honor Him. He gave us but two commandments, "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself." When your neighbor is a friendly person who leans over a picket fence to offer you lemonade on a hot summer day that commandment is pretty easy to follow, but when your neighbor is a violent offender serving time in a maximum security prison the challenge is to engage, not ignore the opportunity for connection, for fellowship.
Spreading the Gospel doesn't require us to be Biblical scholars, but to be living epistles. We are jars of clay and when we take the time to compassionately break the barriers we construct between ourselves and others we begin to put Jesus's commands into play. Sometimes loving someone needs just a smile to prove itself, sometimes a listening ear, occasionally a shared prayer, or act of charity. The outreach is a result of how we've been in-reached by the Spirit. John says if we claim to love God but hate our brother we are a liar, and liars make their entire lives a prison.
We closed our service at Pelican Bay with a 21 day challenge to silently pray for someone we suspect has the fewest praying people in their life. Intercessory prayer is a great investment of time, especially when doing time behind bars. Incarceration is not a requirement to pray over other people, so go ahead try it yourself for 21 days. We'll be going back to Pelican bay about that time and look forward to carrying your full report !