This last week we traveled through Florida and were thrilled to be returning to some of the prisons we’d visited back in December with Timothy’s Gift!(www.timothysgift.com)
You may recall in December we put on 22 concerts in 10 days along with about 6 other people from our church, all within the Florida prison system. It was an incredible time of laughter, music and art, and most importantly (and most life-changing), we shared communion with the inmates as the main part of our program. I can tell you that it did get old singing some of those songs over and over again, but it NEVER got old watching these tough and defeated men and women receive the love of God in a way they never had. I cried at least 22 times that week.
When we got home, we knew we had been a part of a ministry that was like no other - a ministry that reaches out to those who are lost and forgotten - those who are treated like trash in our society. I do understand why some people have a hard time loving them, but we were reminded that they are just as much beloved by God as you and I, and they are worth our time. Not only that, but we realized that all of them, I repeat ALL of them still have hope… a purpose and a future, even if they are “in” for life. We recognized that we can have a positive role in their lives, that we can bring them new life through our music, and we knew that this wouldn’t be the last time we would go through the 20ft razor wire fences.
So we went back last week. This time it was just Jacob and I, and our friend Rob Reeves, an ex-inmate himself and GREAT guy. We did 4 prisons, all locations we had been to before. We did a 1.5hr program of our music, some covers, some worship, and some speaking by Rob.
He is a shining example of a person who went down the wrong path, made poor decisions, ended up in prison, got caught up in all the madness… until one day a prison ministry volunteer planted a seed in him. Over a course of time, he then came into a relationship with Christ through ministries like Timothy’s Gift. He has now been “out” for about 6 years, has a fiancée, manages a body shop in Fort Lauderdale, and even closed on his first home a couple weeks ago. (Almost unheard of for an ex-con!) Most people never give inmates enough credit or encouragement to achieve such things, but Rob did it. By the grace of God and with the help of good people coming inside those walls to encourage him and help him grow, he did it. INCREDIBLE stuff.
We started off with some upbeat, fun songs, like “Dirty Jesus,” reminding them that Jesus was the kind of guy who hung out with the “least of these.” We played some bluesy tunes that were familiar to them and got them singing along on “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” We worshiped with them, and I learned some lyrics in Spanish because those Hispanic guys often feel forgotten in the crowd. I think they liked it :) Jacob & I of course shared from our lives about times when we’d lost hope and felt like God wasn’t there. We reminded them with songs like “My Anchor Holds” and “Lead Us On” that “[crap] happens”, but there is ALWAYS hope and we can find peace in Christ, even when we don’t have answers. We also made it a point to encourage them as followers of Christ to make a difference in the world for the better - to treat people around them with respect and learn to see other people as the “beloved” of God, just like we instilled in them in December.
I wouldn’t say it was as emotional or moving as the time we had in December, but it was still very special. We were reminded that they live day in and day out as a number. Many of them have lost their dignity and purpose in life… no wonder they end up back in there over and over again. I think and I hope that we left them with another kick-start… a reminder of who they are and a push to be better. Rob’s speaking was definitely the highlight of the day for them! But we could even see how a smile, a handshake, and a “Hey, how’ve you been since we saw you last?!” really re-energized them. And we are starting to see evidence that what we’re doing is bringing about positive change WITHIN the prison walls.
At a few locations, we even involved some of their musicians, who played with us/for us and WOW!!! How talented these guys are! They ran sound for us, played some of their favorite songs, and one guy named “Prevo” played with us on one of the blues tunes and blew us out of the water with his soloing. At the same location, we were surprised with this INCREDIBLE card one of the inmates made for us - look at the detail! A bunch of the guys signed it and it’s probably the best gift we’ve ever received. We were reminded yet AGAIN that these are PEOPLE… not murderers or rapists or thieves… they are people named “Prevo”, “Cedric”, “Matt”, and “Billy” who have families, talents, gifts, regrets, and dreams - JUST LIKE YOU AND ME.
Our lives were yet again touched by these men. We believe whole-heartedly in this ministry and will continue to involve ourselves in it as the years go on… not only because we want to bring a positive change to their lives, but because we want to go back and visit our friends, just like Jesus talked about in Matthew 25. We ask that you PLEASE join us in praying for these men and women, the guards/prison staff (because they have a TOUGH job), and for Timothy’s Gift as they develop further programming. If you can, GO into those walls with us. If you can’t go, GIVE - we need money to get us there. And if you can’t give, PRAY. God is doing incredible things in that world, and I promise, you’ll want to be a part of it.
Merry Belated Christmas and Happy New Year!!! We hope all of you are enjoying the season with family and friends, perhaps enjoying a few too many calories and way too many naps :)
We’ve had one of the best Christmases of our lives this year. As you know, we traveled to Florida for 11 days with other musicians and friends from our church to give Christmas concerts at prisons all over the state. It was a very busy trip… we spent every day in a van with 6 other people, our sound equipment, and all of our luggage. We did 90 minute concerts, usually 2 a day, and each time we entered and exited a prison we and all of our sound equipment/instruments had to go through security. We ate way too much McDonald’s and not enough salads, went to bed around 11 every night and woke up at 5 every morning. It was winter even in Florida! And with that came mostly chilly, cloudy days and our security process usually took place outside… in the wind, rain and cold. And not to mention the colds, headaches, muscle aches, and vocal strain we all faced throughout the week. It was an adventure for sure!
But the heart of what we did seemed to cancel out our ‘suffering.’ During the concerts we played plenty of upbeat, fun Christmas music, and a man on our team (John Starnes) did sort of a stand-up comedy bit. It may seem silly, but you see these men and women in the prison system don’t have much to smile about. They needed some time to forget about their worries and smile, sing, clap, and laugh along with us. It was easy to see the laughter was healing for so many of them. Then, Laine Barley (a painter from our church) gave her testimony about how she became angry with God when she lost her 20 yr old nephew and husband all within a few years’ time. She felt God telling her he still loved her despite her anger, questions, and doubts (a message you know is familiar to us). She told the inmates there’s nothing they could do to compromise God’s love for them, then painted an iconic picture of an angel that she left with each chaplain as a reminder of God’s covering over them. This was a precious gift since most of the chapels contain no artwork. Also, you can imagine how some of those men and women feel toward God… they needed to hear that they have permission to wrestle with God. Through it all, we kept telling them how loved they are… that we would pause our Christmas season and make sacrifices to come see them, that some random church in Tennessee gave thousands of dollars to make this ministry possible, and most importantly we reminded them of God’s love for them… even when it doesn’t make sense, God loves us and is there for us. You DEFINITELY need to check out a song we performed called “Love Me” by JJ Heller - it was the climax of the show.
Then we did something incredibly important: we served them communion. We told them that they are welcome at the table of Christ no matter where they’re at in their faith. While there are many different views on communion, it is our church’s view that you don’t have to be perfect to approach the table. We find Christ to be a very inclusive individual… Judas was at the table after all. And we all know who he was hanging out with most of the time: murderers, thieves, prostitutes… And that’s exactly who we had the privalege of serving communion to that week. We gave them the body and blood and we consumed this representation of Christ together, accepting this act of love and letting it change all of us from the inside out. We shed tears at EVERY SINGLE service along with the inmates. All 22 services. You could see the look in their eyes when they recognized their sin and further realized the forgiveness that comes with it. So many of them held the bread in their hand as if it were the most precious gift they’d ever received. Many of their eyes had tattoo tears (representing people they’ve killed), covered by real tears, knowing they’ve been truly loved by God. Just as you and I have been forever changed by the love of God, we believe we’ve had this opportunity to plant those seeds in the hearts of inmates, and this can start a movement within the FL prison system. And even some of the chaplains told us how some seeds they have been planting for years became fruit on the day of our concert - What an incredible gift for us! We would love for you to ask us about some more specific stories we experienced next time we see you :)
This experience has changed our lives and we definitely plan to return soon. For these trips to be possible, it does take a good amount of funding. If you would like to continue to help, please visit this website: www.timothysgift.com This is the organization we work through to get into the prisons and they take care of our travel costs. And in case anybody wants to donate a tour bus for us to borrow for the next trip just let me know ;)
Quick EP update: We are ALMOST done! One song and CD artwork left to finish. So sorry it’s taking longer than we led you to believe. We also thought it would be done by now, but as they say, “You can’t rush art!” We aim to be mailing you your CD’s and perks within the month.
We love you all SO much and appreciate your prayers and support. We hope you have found new life in this Christmas season and more importantly, we hope you are passing that on. Have a safe & happy New Year!!!
Katie & Jacob
My Anchor Holds
Earlier this week, Katie and I wrote a song called “We All Belong”. It came out of our own realization that there are people we have kept away from the Church. I doubt it has ever been intentional but the reality is, a large majority of people do not feel welcome in the Christian Church and struggle with God because of it.
Personally, I can think of so many people that probably feel unwelcome specifically because of things that I have done or said to them. It breaks my heart thinking about it now.
So for me, the song “We All Belong” was written out of repentance for my own actions and how I have misrepresented the Gospel.
A healing moment came yesterday when we were leading music for a worship gathering at Humble Walk Lutheran Church in St. Paul MN. This is a picture of their beautiful front door:
I don’t have many experiences in the Lutheran Church so a lot of the liturgy was new to me. But we read the “Invitation to Communion” and it spoke directly to my current struggles:
Here is the company of heaven, seen and unseen,
Here is the bread and wine to be broken and spilled.
Here is Jesus Christ, holy rebel and sacred friend.
This is the belonging place.
Here are the people of God, saint and sinner.
Here is the congregation of heaven,
those ready and those not ready to receive.
Here is the story of God, crucified and risen.
This is the belonging place.
Here is the table of life, open and free.
Here is the grace of God, unconditional and without end.
Here is the love of Jesus, given and given again.
This is the belonging place.
Whoever we are and aren’t,
whatever we believe and don’t,
we belong here - at this table.
Sometimes I think we keep people away because they don’t have things together or their life is out of order. But I wonder if our focus should be on communicating a sense of belonging to them. If they feel like they belong, then everything else just might fall into place.