by Chaplain Nick Meyer, Coffeewood Corretional Center
I’ll never forget the day I was allowed to arrange a one-time trip to my office in the middle of our 16 months of telecommuting. I made my way through five controlled gates into the prison yard, and as I strolled to the building where my office is, I heard an inmate joyfully shouting, “Chaplain Meyer! Hey! Is that you?!! God bless you Chap!” I grinned, waved, and yelled back, “God bless you, too, Brother!”
I still smile when I remember that moment. Who doesn’t love getting a hero’s welcome? This small interaction shows what GraceInside Chaplains mean to so many of the Virginia state prison inmates that we serve. Over time, we become a trusted figure within the prison walls. We develop mutual affection and gain the confidence and respect of prison staff and inmates alike.
However, as I’ve reflected on this interaction, it occurs to me how deeply ironic it is for me to receive a hero’s welcome. In humility, I realize that the true heroes are those inmates who, like my friend, are living examples of faith, hope, and love. If you knew some of the details of his life, not to mention all the challenges of imprisonment during COVID, you would agree that he has every reason to be bitter, angry, and full of despair. Instead, he radiates joy and passion for life. I know dozens of heroes like him inside the walls. In fact, some of the people I most admire are enduring the dull, sustained suffering of prison time with light in their eyes. While many inmates default to a pattern of hardening their hearts and personalities to get through their time of incarceration, these heroes that I’m describing cling in faith to the God who saved them, and their attitudes and behaviors bear out the fruit of this new life.
My friend became a follower of Jesus during his incarceration and was baptized by another GraceInside Chaplain some years ago. Chaplains have the amazing privilege of bringing a message of HOPE and of GOOD NEWS, of nurturing hearts and of serving in unique ministry contexts where this kind of transformation is possible. We are COMPANIONS of men and women in prison, weeping with those who weep, and rejoicing with those who rejoice. I thank God for the chance to do this sacred work!
Bereft of physical proximity, COVID was a dry and difficult time, and much was lost during this season (for everyone!). But as we return back to work inside the prisons, not all is lost, and we are REBUILDING! God is still blessing our ministry and blessing his incarcerated children through us (and we are blessed by them!). Not that this should be a surprise, for we remember with the Psalmist that “God is near to the broken-hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34).
Please PRAY for all of the incarcerated, and also take time to THANK God for working in and through them. Pray especially for those that are still crushed in spirit, sitting in DARKNESS, without hope and without joy. Pray that God’s LIGHT and immeasurable love would break into their lives! Pray for the correctional staff members that work in such a dark and difficult environment day in and day out. And pray for all of us – the GraceInside Chaplains – that we would be strengthened and sustained in our ministry and faithful to this vitally important work that God has given to us.
GraceInside currently has 34 Chaplains serving in all 42 Virginia state correctional facilities, ministering to the spiritual needs of nearly 25,000 incarcerated men and women!
Your special Christmas gift to GraceInside (be it large or small) – along with your ongoing support throughout the coming year – are what make this kind of “hero’s welcome” possible. Our Chaplains are back inside the state prison facilities! Religious volunteers are gradually returning! Religious programs and services are at last getting back up and running again! God is about to do some more AMAZING things in the lives of these incarcerated men and women!!! But we can’t provide this vital ministry without YOUR help. Won’t YOU please help our Chaplains bring LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS of Virginia’s state prisons???