Monday, July 06, 2009

Being Led by the Spirit

“For as many as are led by the Spirit, these are the sons (and daughters) of God.” (Romans 8:14).

The Message puts it this way, “God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!” And you will find as you follow Jesus along the Way of Truth, that your life will be filled with surprises at almost every turn.

Father William Wilson, a dear friend who has a storied journey with Jesus, wrote me about an experience he recently had in “being led by the Spirit.” Here, in his own words, is what happened.

I was returning home to Birmingham from a meeting of bishops in south Alabama, heading north on Hwy 231, when I casually looked over my left shoulder and was struck by the sight of rolls of razor wire at the top and bottom of a storm fence. Then I saw the sign at the entrance -- “Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.”

My first thought was “I wouldn’t want my dog to live behind that fence.” Then I thought: The inmates behind that fence are not dogs. They are daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. All of them are beloved children of God for whom Jesus died. These are your sisters, your daughters. Help them!

Now my mind said, “Keep on driving. You are going home. You are needed there. You can do good things for your family at home. Go home, where you belong.” My heart said: For God sake, have compassion on these women! Stop. Go inside and offer to volunteer to help the Chaplain serve these poor women in any way you can.

I trusted my heart and went inside. It was all strange and off-putting. They buzzed me through two doors made of bars, leaving me in a small dimly lit reception area where there was a cage housing an officer receptionist.

“What is your business?”

“I just want to offer volunteer service to the Chaplain.”

“Give me your car keys and drivers license and take a seat.”

I sat on a bench against the wall.

What I did not know was that the Chaplain, Rev. Alicia Smallwood-Brown, was at that moment having a conference with the Warden in his office.

Nor did I know that, a month earlier, a Hispanic inmate had asked her if she could provide a bible class in Spanish. At that time the Warden told Chaplain Alicia that ‘it is a good idea, but we do not have any budget to get a Spanish speaking minister. If you find a volunteer, go right ahead.’

The Chaplain had no idea how to find a Spanish speaking volunteer and put the wish on hold.

The phone in the Warden’s office rang, while I sat outside in total uncertainty about what was happening.

The Warden answered the phone call from the receptionist who told him a minister arrived who wanted to volunteer service to the Chaplain.

He hung up the phone and told Chaplain Alicia, who was sitting in front of him: “You have to go out to Reception. Your volunteer Spanish minister is here.” The Chaplain, confused, said: “What? I’ve been praying that God would send a Spanish speaking minister. But I haven’t had a chance to follow up on that yet.” To which the Warden replied: “He is here. Go out there and talk to him”.

A confused, dignified, black woman came out to Reception. I stood up to greet her and tell her that I just wanted to help in any way if I could. I was remotely thinking of a monthly visit.

Chaplain Smallwood-Brown welcomed me warmly. We were about to discuss what I might be able to do as a volunteer Assistant Chaplain. Chaplain Alicia broke the conversation line, with: “You do not happen to speak Spanish do you?” I replied, “Si, Senora, hablo bastante bien el Espanol”

Hearing this, the good Chaplain placed both hands on each side of her head and exclaimed: “I prayed for you to come here. Praise God!”

It is now five months later. I have become a prayer partner and older brother to Chaplain Smallwood-Brown. She has opened many doors of ministry for me to the inmates.

Every Tuesday, I drive two hours to the front ‘door-of-bars’ of the maximum security, Tutwiler Prison for Women. All I do there is tell the women that Jesus loves them, that He has a very special love for them, and that they have a glorious future in His plan for their lives….and that Jesus sent me here to love them.

Believe me, the Christian women I meet in Tutwiler are far better than I am. Their willingness to submit to the “justice system of men” shows me a patience and heroism that I can only pray to emulate.

“I was in prison and you visited Me.” Yes Lord, yes Lord!

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