I remember that still small voice calling me into music ministry. It was 1994 and I was at a Christian retreat weekend. Honestly, it wasn’t really an audible voice. It was more like an instantaneous divine directive. I knew God wanted me to use my musical gifting to serve him, and I was so ready. I had my own ideas about how it would look though. Sound familiar? 20 years ago, a friend of mine, that was active at that time in Charis prison ministry, invited me to serve on a weekend team. I was so conflicted inside as I searched for an answer to his question. When I said “yes” to God about serving him in music ministry, this whole idea about going to prison was not on my radar. Looking back, I was plain afraid. Even my friend’s reassurance that this would be a deeply meaningful endeavor didn’t persuade me in the least. Over the years, I’ve run into him a few times – each time re-extending the offer to me, and me…politely declining.
Fast forward to 2009. My friend, John Klockeman, invited me to be a part of a bible study at the MCF in Faribault, MN. To my immediate surprise, I said yes! I have no idea why, except to say that I think it’s called surrender. On the day we arrived at the prison, we were escorted to the meeting room by security staff and soon the offenders arrived. I was asked to lead worship and did so…knees literally knocking. Then something amazing happened! In the midst of our singing, I became aware of God’s presence in the room. It was thick and tangible. Unmistakable. These men were worshipping the Living God with everything they had. Like the psalmist wrote in Psalms 40:3 I suddenly became aware of who God is and how important these men were to him and in that moment I was deeply touched and amazed. I remember thinking, “God, you’re HERE in THIS place?!”
I directed the prison choir for a graduation program not too long ago. Many offenders were receiving high school and college level degrees. I later walked out with the keynote speaker for that event. He asked me how I got involved directing the prison choir. When I told him about my first experience (and many, many since), he said, “Ah…you’ve discovered that these walls were meant to keep these offenders here, but they can’t keep God out!”
The associate prison chaplain contacted me one day. He asked if I was interested in directing the Christian prison choir. He needed someone who could be available on Sundays. Being worship director at Rejoice! Church keeps me pretty occupied on Sundays so I reluctantly had to say no. I wanted there to be a way to say yes. But there just didn’t seem to be….until…
The chaplain and I got together for a cup of coffee one day at the James Gang Coffeehouse. It was there that I shared for the first time the following idea: What if I put together a volunteer choir from my church and taught them a dozen worship songs over 8 to 10 weeks let’s say…and then, what if I went to the prison to teach the same songs to the offender choir for those same 8 to 10 weeks — with the goal of bringing the two groups together to form one large combined choir — and accompany that choir with our church worship band…and put on a worship concert at the prison for an audience of offenders and staff???
Tomorrow, Friday, December 14th, 2012, will be our 4th such worship concert at the men’s prison in Faribault, MN. I’ve had 8 weeks of twice a week rehearsals – one night with my church choir and one night with the prison choir. I’ve had a delightful time with both groups, learning songs like Paul Baloche and Lincoln Brewster’s song Shout For Joy, and Chris Tomlin’s version of Angels We Have Heard On High and many more. I think back to my friend from Charis that first invited me to become involved in a prison ministry and how he was so right when he predicted how deeply meaningful this would be to me. It blows my mind when I think of how God turned something that I would only go to dragging my heals, and turn it into my most treasured music ministry experience. I’m so exited for tomorrow! I’m encouraging my choir, band, and tech crew to post their comments here about their experiences being involved in this adventure. No doubt they have their own stories of how they’ve discovered that no matter where you go, you can’t keep God out!