If you’ve followed along with our ministry this year you might have noticed a recurring theme, Hope.
Hope is at the heart of our ministry. At Songs in the Night a few weeks ago, there was a quilt made by our students at the Metro Transitional Center. On the back of the quilt there was one word, HOPE.
Hope, to the incarcerated women who spent weeks laboring over that quilt, is not just a word or a mantra. Hope is all they have.
Hope that things will get better. Hope that they will go home one day. Hope that their families will forgive them. Hope that they can remain free of drugs or addictions. Hope that they can regain custody of their children. Hope that they are welcomed back to society. Hope that they can find a job. Hope that they won’t accidentally violate their parole. Hope that they don’t become homeless. Hope that they can heal from the trauma of incarceration. Hope that they aren’t forever burdened with labels like “justice involved individual” or “returned citizen.” Hope that they will be made whole. Hope that they aren’t one of the two out of three inmates who return to prison in five years. Hope that they do not fail.
I was recently teaching a class on forgiveness at the Atlanta Transitional Center. I and six students meet every other Tuesday at 7 PM in the visitation room. We sit down to eat a homemade meal and then talk for an hour and a half. I forgot to buy plastic forks before our first meal, so I brought my metal forks from home. As I set out the food, one of the guys pulled me aside. He was nervous about the forks. He hadn’t used one in years; all he had ever been given in prison was a spork. As we ate in near silence, I couldn’t help but notice the sound of forks clanging on plates, a noise you and I are so accustomed to, a noise that was new once more to those six men. In that sound in the stillness of that run down visitation room on a dark Tuesday night lit by the neon of the Krispy Kreme across the street, I heard God.
The news and social media feeds are telling us that the world isn’t getting any better. Crime, homelessness, and drugs permeate our society. Teenagers are feeling as lost and hopeless as ever. Suicide rates are up amongst nearly age group and demographic. The already bleak rhetoric will certainly get even bleaker as we approach this next election cycle. War rages to our east, death and destruction ever present in lands not too far away. It is easy to despair, but my hope for us all is, that this Christmas, we all feel a little bit more hopeful.
Because God is here. He is with us. He is moving. I have seen Him move through my life. I have seen Him move through the hundreds of incarcerated men and women I have met over two plus years of this job.
In the darkness of prison, there is light. Incarcerated men and women are hearing truth, chaplains are spreading the Good News of Christ. Organizations like ours are bringing hope to those behind bars. Lives are changing.
My pastor Adrienne was at Songs in the Night. Afterwards, she spoke of the experience and of our ministry. “That ministry is making a way for God to do His thing. In the darkness of prison, there are women singing praises to God.”
Life never goes to plan. If I had my way, right now I would have been married, starting a family, and working as a college professor. Instead, I am single and working in prisons (with my mother!). You know what I was doing before this job? I was working on my Master’s in Horticulture and doing landscaping. But if I hadn’t been studying horticulture, I wouldn’t be where I am, listening to the beautiful sounds of forks on a plate, seeing lives transformed each and every day, witnessing souls be redeemed, sins washed clean. I cry a lot more now than I ever did, and that, that’s a beautiful thing.
It seems like we’ve all been in the rain the last few years, or at least I know I have. But I know brighter days are ahead, God told me so. I see it, I hope you will too. The voice is crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Merry Christmas. Thank you for being a part of our story and our year. I hope you have a blessed Advent season.