This week I didn’t attend the Thursday night Bible study in the maximum security unit. I had a head cold that completely plugged up my ears.
Even in “normal” Bible studies outside the walls I’ve noticed that people tend to be rather quiet when they are sharing something deeply personal. It tends to come off rather callous if the Bible study leader says, “WHAT?” and makes them repeat it. It is even more off-putting and potentially hurtful if the Bible study leader appears to ignore what someone has said, especially if it is something deeply personal.
In addition to those scenarios the reality of ministering behind bars is this:
- I must be able to hear correctional officers (COs) if they give a command
- I must be able to hear and respond to the men particularly if they are trying to alert me that they are in danger.
An example of the first item: If the COs determine there is a security situation requiring a lockdown they may just open the door and say, “Lockdown”, and I will need to immediately end the study and move out of the unit. (See my earlier blog post “Lockdown”)
On the second item: At either the beginning or the end of a study someone may try to alert me that they are in danger. Another chaplain in a womens’ unit talked about a time that a woman gave her a small note that read either ”help” or “911”. The chaplain took her to the CO to get her put into protective custody. It turns out the woman had already been attacked once and was at very real risk of being attacked again even more severely.
Good hearing goes beyond just the convenience aspect. It is a matter of safety as well, for both me, for the men, and for the staff.
While it is important to be consistent in ministry, it is also important to understand our limitations. Consider this scripture:
2 Timothy 4:20
20 Erastus stayed in Corinth, but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick.
Paul isn’t shaming Trophimus for being sick. Trophimus was clearly ministering with Paul (Acts 20 and 21). Now he needed to deal with his illness.
Now some may think, “but if I don’t go then who will minister to those men?”
But I don’t bring Jesus to the jail. Jesus is already there. I already know that some of the men are ministering to an encouraging each other. In the unit where I lead the study they are served breakfast very early in the morning – usually around 3 or 3:30am. For this meal the men are let out of their cells to go to the common area where they can get their breakfast. This is a time the men can converse with each other. I’ve already heard about some of the encouragement and discussions of faith that happens at the breakfast table.
20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
That means even behind bars.