Jesus says in Luke 4:18
”He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of site for the blind,
to release the oppressed.”
Disclaimer…this is lengthy but well worth the read!!
What an incredible weekend! We saw God move in a powerful way in the lives of 16 juvenile offenders and the hearts of the detention center workers and Epiphany team members. I really do not have the words to adequately describe what happened this weekend, but I’m giving it a try…just know…captives were set FREE!
The theme of day 1: You are loved!!
On Day one the boys came in and really didn’t know what to think about us or the program. Our team made a lined walk way and cheered as each boy’s name was called. They walked through the line with hard faces and lifeless eyes. I thought to myself…”this could be a long few days…” little did I know, the days would go by all too quickly…
Our whole job was to love, love, love and listen, listen to these boys. Through activities and talks they were told about how much Jesus loved them and that we loved them as well. By the end of Friday they seemed a little more comfortable and were enjoying at least being able to eat some good food and have a change of routine. We were starting to learn a little more about each of the boys.
I smiled as I watched the boys interact with Wade at one table and my mom at the other. Mom’s so great with kids and these boys just ate up all the attention she gave them. The boys’ respect for Wade was evident and they were very impacted as he told them what he saw in them and how he knew they could make a change.
We discovered that they are an extremely talented and creative bunch – artists, writers, leaders, helpers…
The theme of day 2: Forgiveness
As the boys came in the second morning, there was way more enthusiasm…high fives, smiles, a few shy, side hugs…
We continued loving but also began talking about forgiveness—forgiveness available for them and people they needed to forgive. Early that day they were given a small square piece of paper to write names of people they needed to forgive as the Holy Spirit prompted them throughout the day.
Different members of the team had different “talks" and skits they had prepared in advance. As each person shared about their topic, they also incorporated their life stories…I was totally amazed at how God used their vulnerability to open the hearts of the boys and to show them that other people have been through extremely difficult times as well, but God was with them through it all. We had some amazing team members to work with and many of them had been involved with Epiphany for many years…working diligently.
One of the major parts of day two is a birthday party celebration. Each boy is given a small birthday cake with their name on it and bag of gifts. When the boys walked into the party they could not believe their eyes. They were totally overwhelmed by the moment. Many of them started crying their eyes out. Several of them had NEVER had a birthday cake or celebration EVER! And the rest hadn’t had a birthday party since they were very little. My heart broke to see these boys who really did think that nobody cared about them and it didn’t even matter that they were alive. They just couldn’t believe these total strangers would care enough to do this…maybe they were valuable after all?
After the birthday party, the boys were even more alive and really starting to believe that they could be loved and I would watch them writing names on their little squares throughout the day…
We gave each boy a Bible and then had times to show them how to find scriptures and talked about the different parts of the Bible.
My Star, Esgar, asked me questions like:
--Why is there an Old Testament and New Testament?
--What is a prophet?
--How could God become a man?
--How is Jesus also God?
--Is John 3:16 a page number?
It was such a blessing to be able to share with this young man how to use his Bible, to tell him more of how perfectly the Bible fits together and its purpose.
Saturday ended with a SHABANG!
The majority of the boys made decisions to follow Christ and came to Salvation! I believe that it was genuine. We were then off to the Chapel for a forgiveness service…
The boys were given an opportunity to nail their lists on a cross that had been set up at the front of the chapel (an empty dorm we converted). One by one we all went up and left our burden of unforgiveness on the cross. Afterwards, we sang Amazing Grace mixed with My Chains are Gone….it was such a powerful moment. There in that prison…prisoners were set FREE! Arms were raised, voices were lifted in song, yells of praise and sobs of freedom!
We were so thankful the staff at the detention center allowed our program to run 30 minutes late to accommodate for the moving of the Spirit. It was one of those moments though that we all knew was so very special, one of those moments you wish would never end…
Day 3: Jesus calls you to walk in a new life
Sunday we continued loving the boys and talking about hanging in there after we’re gone. We were able to talk about the Holy Spirit, the importance of accountability and finding a good church home when they are released.
We listened in joy and amazement to the boys give testimonies of the change that had taken place in their hearts since Friday…most of the boys said,
“Before this weekend, I felt totally alone. I didn’t think anyone loved me. I didn’t think I could change my life. But now I know that I am loved, I am forgiven, I am not alone and I can change my life!” (some even said they didn’t even think God existed before or if He did, they didn’t see him as involved in our lives)
We ended the weekend with a cross ceremony. Each young man was given a chance to accept a cross necklace that had been prayed over specifically for that boy. All 16 boys accepted their crosses and openly proclaimed their love for Jesus. One of the female workers at the detention center even accepted Christ!! They did not have to accept the cross, but all did.
As the cross was placed around their neck, Linda would say, “Jesus loves you.” and as they accepted their crosses, they said, “And I love Jesus!!” We all cheered and clapped and praised the Lord…what could be more glorious?
It really was hard saying goodbye to the boys, knowing that we could not be there with them or even check on the regularly. We told them they would be in our prayers, we would write often and those close enough, would be there the 3rd Saturday of the month to visit. We trust the Lord is able to keep those in his care.
So…in closing, if you ever have the chance to participate in an Epiphany…GO FOR IT! It is exhausting, but the best kind. The Epiphany team was absolutely incredible and I am so thankful the Lord lead us to this particular team. What a blessing it was to serve with my husband, my mom and my aunt!
Please continue to pray for these boys as they grow in their faith in a difficult environment. I am excited to see how the Lord continues to move and am confident we will see many amazing things in their lives.
My heart smiled and still does at the thought of Jesus’ praises ringing off those concrete walls…
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found was blind but now I see…My chains are gone, I’ve been set free! My God my Savior has ransomed me and like a flood, his mercies rain…unending love, amazing grace.