When PJ Bolduc, our Pine Valley United Methodist Church Children & Youth Music Director, mentioned that IGNITE was going to a jail to do their Search and Rescue concert, I knew I wanted to go! IGNITE is the PVUMC Worship Arts ministry for youth. Prison ministry has always had a special place in my heart. IGNITE’s concert Sunday morning at 9:45 in the Bridge was such a blessing!
Tuesday I arrived in Newport News to see IGNITE do their concert at the Five Loaves Food bank where they put on a carnival earlier in the day. After the concert, Brother Tim, a Franciscan Monk, had a healing service for 13 year old Riley, who is very sick and has lived years past his prognosis. Brother Tim had not seen him in a year and he showed up Tuesday night! Brother Tim asked anyone who needed healing to stand and whoever felt led to pray to go pray with someone near you. The girl next to me, Holly, had been crying so hard she was shaking. I stood with her and she could only say, “emotional healing”. As I wrapped my arms around her to pray with her I shared her tears. God was breaking my heart for what breaks His. IGNITE had a raffle and called so many numbers! I was cheering for Holly’s number to be called and she said, “I already got a gift...the best gift...being here tonight!” Miracles were seen Tuesday night. Our youth were mingling and making friends! Aubrey shared with me what Edna, her 94 year old friend, meant to her. Aubrey nor I will probably ever see Edna or Holly again but we will never forget our encounters. As we ate dinner, Brother Tim (not Pastor Tim) shared his story of being in prison for three years for drugs before He changed his life. He shared what God could do in your life and God’s amazing forgiveness.
Wednesday morning when the 120+ inmates of the Henrico County Jail walked in, there were already tears by many of the females. Not only do the inmates not get to see youth, but also a few if not many have children this age and do not know if, or when, they will see their children. I am sure there were lots of feelings of regret, shame, heaviness, etc. As soon as our youth started singing there were more tears, smiles, moving to the music and clapping. When the words, “I needed rescue, my sin was heavy, but chains break at the weight of Your glory,” were sang, they started yelling in praise to God as I believe their chains were breaking. As we sang, “You rescued me so I could stand and sing, ‘I am a child of God!’” You could just hear them yelling, “thank You, Jesus” and “Amen”. One lady, on the front row, could hardly contain herself. Joy was radiating from her! When she heard, “And when the tears of pain and heartache are pouring down my face, I find my peace in Jesus’ name” she grabbed her arms and told her friend, “I have chills!” She could not stop smiling or cheering.
When the words, “From my mother’s womb...you have chosen me” was sung there seemed to be another “release” of tears. “I’m no longer a slave to fear” brought shouts of praise! My notes are tear stained as I prayed for these children of God to know they are chosen and know they are forgiven! “East to west their sins were gone!” When the last song was sung and the words were, “Three days later, my Jesus is alive,” I witnessed true celebration. We don’t praise THAT much on Easter morning!
PJ thanked them for having IGNITE and told them even though we do not know them, as a Christian community, we love you. They all yelled back, “we love you!” Pastor Tim reminded them how much God loves them. He said if any of us need to accept forgiveness, transformation and power in our lives to say yes. There were no eyes shut and no heads bowed - they were all yelling, “YES!” Pastor Tim closed with, “let us receive, believe and walk in that mercy today.” I could just picture Jesus smiling, so proud, arms outreached to welcome back the lost sheep! I know he was so proud of the youth! 1 Timothy 4:12, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
As the men filed out, they were yelling, “thank you! We love you!” As they walked out they looked lighter from burdens being lifted. There were smiles and they looked hopeful! As I mingled with some of the women, I asked what I should tell our church about this concert. One lady told me that her 15 year old daughter sings in an all county chorus and these youth inspired her- thinking of her daughter singing Christian songs! Several told me that for a little while they forgot where they were! Wow! One lady said, “y’all opened up moments of grace for me.” For me too! The lady who oozed joy told me that she had needed this for a while. She and her friend had been talking the day before about needing to feel God. Her friend said, “just yesterday I yelled, ‘God where are you’?!” As she wiped the steady stream of tears from her face, they both laughed and she said, “and then today here y’all were!” They felt part of a miracle! IGNITE was an answered prayer for so many hurting sheep!
A few inmates got to answer questions and share their story. One shared that she had a good childhood raised by strong Christian parents and grandparents. When she went to UVA she had freedom with no one to answer to. She could do whatever she wanted and her partying progressed. Later, as an alcoholic, she chose to be irresponsible and drive with her baby and she found herself in jail for 36 months. She said this was a blessing - she could have killed her son and innocent people. She reminded us not to follow the crowd. You know what your parents instilled in you! Another lady told us she did not wake up one day wanting to be a bad person. She turned her back on everything she knew. Instead of seeking God she sought drugs. She was leaving that afternoon and did not know where she would be. She would get her sentence in court the next day. She was grateful she saw IGNITE before she left! Another miracle! Even though she did not know what her future held, she said she knew God will never leave her or forsake her. She thanked IGNITE for reminding them that God IS in the jail!
Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” And as IGNITE tells you, that is great news for anyone who’s ever drifted out to sea or wandered away from the flock. “If you feel like a hurricane is blowing through your life, a storm of debt, depression, sickness or grief, if you feel like your life should be declared a disaster area, look to God, who is able to keep you in His eye. He put His Son Jesus Christ on search and rescue duty, and if we trust Him, He will provide a place of peace for our soul.
IGNITE stands for “In God Nothing Is Too Extreme” and that was proved this week! And I will close with another lady’s comment to our youth, “you are all so beautiful!”