KnoxCAM Visits Northeast Correctional Facility on January 21, 2017

KnoxCAM visited Northeast Correctional Institute in Mountain City this past Saturday. We faced some challenges leading up to the trip, including the last-minute loss of our scheduled speaker and an actor who came down with a stomach virus on the morning of the concert. Similar challenges occurred before this concert last year. We think God is working mightily at Northeast! And, as last year, He met us every step of the way. He is greater than any arrows the enemy tries to hurl at us!

Joe is the actor who replaced our ill member (and who did an outstanding job filling the role holding a script) emailed me his thoughts after the concert. They are humble, insightful, and so uplifting. Please read below for a glimpse into how God continually meets our needs:
“There’s a familiar cliche in theater that “the show must go on” regardless of circumstances or unforeseen events. And today I think we all, together, managed to deliver a powerful performance, despite significant challenges, that was a blessing to many of the men who attended based on the conversations that I heard when we were finished.
 
But KnoxCAM isn’t a show. It’s a ministry. And it “goes on” not because of what we bring to the table, but because God wills it. Everyone in the group is wonderfully gifted. Blessed, in fact. But as Abraham learns in Gen. 12, we are blessed to be a blessing. We serve at God’s pleasure and direction. God called Scott to be elsewhere and called Fred to deliver the message instead. The message Fred delivered was the one God intended for the men of Northeast to hear. Caleb was sidelined by a sudden and unexpected illness. I think God intended the men of Northeast to hear the Unchained story from the perspective of a father/daughter relationship, and I was thrilled to have a chance to make that happen by taking Caleb’s place.
But the victory was won because we ALL answered the call. It’s flattering to be complimented personally, but EVERYONE was working together, supporting each other, united in the calling that is KnoxCAM. My fellow actors and dancers, especially, were 100% supportive, encouraging, and committed. Choir, bells and orchestra soared. John on the sound board ensured that everyone could hear it. We made something great together, as one body.
 
I know people were praying for us, and God honored those prayers to accomplish His will in the lives of the men who attended. I was honored and humbled to a part of it.
 
In closing … It was fun to play Simon, but once is enough. Caleb: get well soon! :-)”

Being “For” Each Other: A Conductor’s Lesson

I learned (or relearned) a humbling lesson at the KnoxCAM concert at the women’s prison in Nashville last Saturday.

During the concert I felt distracted by changes in the orchestra sound due to the absence of a member who had to work; and by the challenges of keeping us all together in a gym full of echoes. I made some silly conducting mistakes that I fervently hoped wouldn’t confuse the orchestra (our excellent players kept up just fine, despite my errors).  I felt a general sense of disconnection, observing what was happening rather than entering into the emotional “flow” of the concert, and wondering if I was a hypocrite for conducting what I wasn’t feeling.  When it was over I prayed, “Thank you, Lord, for getting us through this one.”

I was glad to sit down and hear soprano and Lutheran pastor Ingrid bring a message to the women, a message full of God’s grace and peace.  Our concert and her message were about the birth of Christ; I felt the holy quiet of Christmas Eve descend on the room as she spoke.  It was utterly silent, the women utterly still, their eyes locked on her.  Three women came forward at the end to re-commit their lives to Christ.  Ingrid prayed with them while the prison chaplain prayed FOR them and the rest of the women.

The first KnoxCAM member I saw afterwards was Marti, a handbell player.  She said, “Well, I think that was one of our best ones ever.”  I thought, “Really??”  I was genuinely surprised but thankful her impression was different than mine.

Our bell director Paula said, “I can always tell how things are going by the way you look; and you looked so joyful.  This was a spine-tingler for me.”  Joe, another bell player, said, “The actors brought tears to my eyes today.”  Sam our cellist said, “I’m always worn out after a concert, and it’s not from physical exertion.  I think it’s from the intensity of the emotion and concentration.”  David, a singer, said some generous things about the way he felt me communicating with the choir, ending with, “You are FOR us.”  (I again wondered if I were a hypocrite.)

The Chaplain spoke with enthusiasm and thankfulness about how quiet and attentive the women were.  Two of the prisoners who helped us set up (and served us homemade strawberry bread and blueberry muffins baked by women in the prison culinary arts program) told us how the women whose cells face the gym watch all morning for our coming:  they watch us trundle in our truckload of equipment; they watch us troop across the courtyard like a large flock of blue and black birds.  They say their first blessing is just seeing us arrive and knowing we have come for THEM.  (Out of 600 inmates who are eligible to receive visitors, we were told only 45 have people who visit them regularly.  Heartbreaking!)  The new warden, who has only been there a week, took group photos to post on the Department of Corrections website.

Everyone seemed thrilled with the concert – except me.  I didn’t think we had done a poor job.  I actually thought we had done a good job (from a technical standpoint); it just wasn’t “good” for me emotionally.  As we were leaving, I said to the group, “This was a harder concert for me; I’m glad the way God works doesn’t depend on the way we feel.”

On the way home I thought about all that had happened, and I was suddenly brought up very short by the painful recognition of my own self-centeredness.  (Perhaps you will say I am still dwelling on myself by even writing this article, and perhaps you will be right, I don’t know.)  Despite what I had said to the group about God’s work not depending on our feelings, I was in fact measuring the “success” of the concert by my own perceptions. I sensed God saying to me, “It’s not your job to convey how you are feeling; it’s your JOB to convey the meaning of the music to the group.  It’s a wonderful gift if you are also feeling as joyful as the story, but really, how you are feeling has nothing to do with it.  Will I be enough for you, even if you don’t feel that wonderful emotional flow?”  I KNOW this – but how easily I forget!  Forgive me, Lord, and thank you for reminding me!

David had said, “You are FOR us.” (Humbling, humbling – I ALWAYS want to be FOR the group, but I had focused on myself instead, even wondering if I were a hypocrite – insidious lies of Satan.)

I think the reverse of what happened to me can also be true:  we can assume God is working through a given concert if we feel good about it.  The truth is, it’s always dangerous to judge by our own emotions; our job is to create a concert that will resonate with the prisoners, to prepare ourselves and perform to the best of our ability, and then humbly to recognize that GOD is the one who does the work and is in charge of results.

And we do see Him working:  in the rapt attention of the prisoners; in the men and women who recommit themselves to Christ or trust Him for the first time; in the letters of thanksgiving and testimony we receive afterwards; in the positive feedback from chaplains and wardens; in the invitations to return again and again.

As I re-read what I have written, I am struck by how often I have talked about the concept of being “for” others:  the women are so excited that someone is coming into the prison “for” them, and they are “for” us by treating us as honored guests; the chaplain prayed “for” all the women in attendance; God, through David and others, reminded me again that my job as conductor is to be “for” the group.

This is a beautiful lesson for all of us.  My prayer for us is that we will ALL be FOR each other, not dwelling on our own feelings, but rather on this holy story we have the privilege of telling; and on encouraging each other every moment to boldly proclaim that message; not trusting or judging by our own feelings – or even mistakes – but with joyful desperation totally ENTRUSTING ourselves to God alone to do His work.

 

 

 

 

 

Joyful Desperation

All of us in KnoxCAM were very aware of God’s presence at our concert at Northeast Prison in January.  Since that concert, I have been pondering why we were so aware of Him on that occasion while being less aware on some other occasions.  I think He is always present where Christians have gathered and earnestly and humbly desire to worship Him; if we don’t always notice His presence, perhaps it’s because we haven’t intentionally attuned our hearts and spirits to the idea of “expectancy” – of expecting Him to show up and work.

Not expectancy in the sense that I used to say to our daughter when she was in middle school, “I expect you to have your room cleaned up by the time I get back from the grocery store!”  Rather, in the sense my husband and I have now that she is an adult living in another city:  when we know we are going to see her soon, we are full of eager anticipation and expectancy about the sheer joy of being with her again.

Our clarinetist, Hal, shared with one of his friends the many challenges we faced leading up to our Northeast visit and the strong presence of the Holy Spirit we and the men present that evening experienced during our concert there.  His friend said, “It’s because you were desperate.  You knew you had to depend on God.”

Before our concert last weekend at the Bledsoe Prison men’s units, we prayed that God would fill us with the “joyful desperation” of utter dependence on Him to share His message of love and salvation with the prisoners there; and that we would notice how He was working.  We were as excited as children to see what He would do.  He was there, and we knew it because we were focused on Him.  We worked as one, unified throughout the concert by His Spirit.  Those who could see the faces of the men in attendance said they sat in rapt attention, some with tears streaming down their cheeks.  Many stood afterward to rededicate their lives to Christ or to trust Him for the very first time.

A young prisoner said to me after the concert, “You all do more than you know.  You lifted hate from my heart tonight.”  I don’t know his story, probably never will.  I do know that GOD did more than we knew that night, working in the hearts of these men in ways we will learn about with joy when we all reach heaven.  We returned home rejoicing with hearts full of thanksgiving over His working.

As we intentionally cultivate an attitude of joyful expectancy and desperation, we enter a beautiful circle of anticipation, participation, noticing, rejoicing with thanksgiving, returning finally to anticipation of the next time.

It’s easy this time of year, when we are doing the same concert for the sixth or seventh time, in a prison we have visited many times, to be tempted into complacency by the familiarity of it all.  May God forgive us when we give in to such temptation!  Every time is a new opportunity for Him to work in us and through us and in the hearts of the men and women we serve.  May He continually renew our joyful desperation to proclaim Christ as we intentionally wait in eager expectation of what He will do!

 

 

The Blessings of Working with an Older Singer

Yesterday I had the joy of seeing Harry once again take joy in singing.

Harry is one of the older baritones in the KnoxCAM Choir.  He has an unusually beautiful voice, one of the most beautiful I have ever heard.  But he approached me last week saying he was feeling discouraged, that his voice just wasn’t like it used to be, that he didn’t like his vibrato or the way his voice sounded.  He was considering not continuing to sing.  I asked him to come for a lesson and let me hear what was bothering him.

Harry is a delightful man.  He is kind, he talks easily, he has a big smile for everyone.  He is very active physically and loves to be outside.  He didn’t start singing until he was 35, at which time he began studying voice and doing choral and solo work in community choirs.  He sings on a very skilled level, and he knows the vocabulary of the voice.  He is a quick student, immediately able to relate things I suggested to things he had learned from previous teachers.

At his first lesson, we discovered right away that he had gotten into some poor breathing habits, raising his chest and tensing his shoulders with every inhalation.  We worked on a lower, more relaxed breath, and he could easily see in the mirror when he was doing it right and wrong; but consistency was a challenge.  We also worked a little bit on connecting his head voice to his chest register, which helped stabilize his intonation and vibrato to some extent.  I told him that his voice is different now than it was when he was a young man, but there are definitely techniques he can work on to improve the still-beautiful voice he has. He left feeling somewhat encouraged but still wondering if he would really be able to improve.

Yesterday was the big breakthrough.  He returned breathing correctly with much more consistency and feeling much more comfortable about doing so.  As he sang, we became aware of his throat tightening on lower notes.  We began to talk about keeping the throat open and relaxed, not “pushing” the sound out.  He immediately remembered his former teacher had worked with him on the “bel canto idea of drinking in the sound” (his words – remember I told you he knows the language of singing) because, he said, his tendency is to attack and conquer.  This opened up a discussion about singing as relaxing, as letting go (something foreign to his activity-loving nature), of letting the breathing muscles do their job and keeping the body free rather than “set.”

I suggested he swing his arms as he sang.  He moved them back and forth very deliberately.  I asked if he would allow me to hold his upper arms and move them for him, which he was glad to do.  He immediately felt the arm tension, and was just as quickly able to release it and enable me to swing his arms freely.  He then was able to do it himself, with amazing effect on his tone.  His vibrato ceased to be a wobble, and his resonance was beautifully balanced.  That’s when he began to smile.  He said, “That sounds like I used to.”

We found that he could descend to his lowest notes with excellent balance of tone on the /i/ vowel.  We worked first on creating a taller, less spread /i/ sound and then used it as a barometer to match /o/ and /a/ vowels down to his lowest notes.  He quickly realized that he didn’t need to open his mouth much on the bottom and could easily match vowels and create a beautiful sound by changing tongue position while maintaining interior space.  Frequent reminders to “drink in the sound” and the continued arm-swinging kept his body free.  He said he felt as if he wasn’t “doing anything” but the sound made him so happy.  He was astounded that such a sound could emerge when everything felt so easy.

Lastly we worked up to his higher range, using ascending/descending 5-note scales on /i/ changing to /a/ after the first two notes.  He has great tongue and jaw position, very relaxed, with a natural openness as he ascends.  Continued reminders of “watch your breath,” “no pushing,” and “drink in the sound” enabled him to ascend to a-flat with a gorgeous, free tone.  He was thrilled to go so high (when I asked him what note he thought he had sung, he said “f”), and again was amazed at how easy it felt.

Next week we are going to begin applying some of his new knowledge to his part in the choir music.

He left beaming.  He said, “I was going to quit.  I had prayed about it, but now I feel like God wants me to keep singing a little longer.”  I asked him how old he is and was astounded when he said 76.

I left beaming too.  What a joy, what a blessing, to see joy return to Harry’s face and to his singing.

Blessed by Prisoners at Morgan County

KnoxCAM is making a new informational video about what we do.  Kevin Wines, one of our actors, and also an expert film-maker is putting it together.  Today he and I had the blessing of going to Morgan County Prison and doing video interviews with two of the inmates about the impact KnoxCAM has had on their lives.  As always, the prison staff were wonderful to work with, and we are so grateful they allowed us this opportunity.

The men talked about how, at first, they were confused about who we were and why we were there.  They thought we might be paid to come.  When they figured out we were there out of love and a desire to minister, it was overwhelming to them.  They kept saying how much it meant to them that we would choose to spend time with them.  Ricky said you could tell when people come in to minister because they know they are “supposed to” versus because they really want to; he said it was easy to see that we really want to be there and stressed again how much that means to them. Christopher said he has noticed it often rains when we are there, and how it doesn’t matter to us; we trundle ourselves and all our equipment through whatever kind of weather it is.  He said he had been attending worship services in a half-hearted manner, really just for something to do, until he attended our concert.  As a result of our being there he realized how much he needs Jesus, and he committed himself to getting serious with the Lord.  He also wrote to his children about what we had done, and as a result has gotten much closer to them than he was before.  They urged us to keep coming back and said what an encouraging thing it is to be reminded of how God is working even in prison.

What a joyful and humbling experience!  There’s lots more, but you will have to wait for the video!

A Picture of Family

My big takeaway from our concert at Northeast Saturday:  we are indeed a family, pulling together.

I was nervous about the concert.  I knew our part was to trust God, and I WAS trusting him, but I arrived at the church with a turmoil of thoughts about how many members were missing and how to cover for them.  I felt a heavy weight of responsibility.

I first ran into Paula in discussion with several handbell players about covering for Carol.  I overheard this discussion continuing on the bus, with a final statement from Paula, “Okay, we’ve got it.”

Then I ran into Grayson, who said, “Ben is still sick, but don’t worry, we’re going to figure out on the bus how to cover for him.  Zachary will play some viola and some second; and Sarah will play some second and some first.  Don’t worry, we’ll have it by the time we get there.”

Then I ran into Ann, who had driven over from her parents in North Carolina (where she is caring for her father) just to dance with us so Grace wouldn’t have to dance alone.  I asked her how she was doing.  She said, “Don’t worry, I’ve practiced with the video the dancers sent, and I feel good about it.”  She and Grace sat across from me on the bus.  I saw them reviewing choreography on their own and together.

I saw Tracy in the restroom.  She said, “This is going to be our best concert ever.”

During the concert, I caught sight of Meade’s face as we sang the “Gloria.”  It was radiant, transformed with glory as she sang.  I caught her joy and it moved me deeply.

I could feel the single-minded determination of all you singers to get it right during “While Shepherds Watched.”  Your intent communicated itself to me in a very visceral way.  And you did get it right.  It was by far the best you’ve done.

I rejoiced in the beauty of “Messiah, Prince of Peace” and thought how wonderful it is that we get to play it so many times.  It is becoming a part of us in a way that groups who only perform it once or twice cannot know.

I heard the gleefulness and excitement in Beth’s voice as she portrayed Lydia’s encounter with the angels.  I heard the men in the audience responding to the humor and the miracle of the story.

I watched in awe and thanksgiving as Julie signed our story and Scott’s message to a deaf prisoner – he was brand new at Northeast.  How humbling and wonderful that we could minister to him in this special way.

I heard Scott’s powerful message spellbound, and I thanked God for the gifts of communication He has given Scott.  I felt the profound peace and holiness of the presence of God descend on the room as I sat there.

Ann told me afterward that she had had a vision during Scott’s final prayer.  She saw a prison hallway with cells along both sides.  A prison guard was walking along the hall, opening one cell after another and releasing the prisoners.  At the end of the hall was another open door, leading outside to a warm, beautiful, and light-filled place.  All the prisoners were walking through that door into the freedom of new life.

I contemplated all this on the bus.  The way you all rallied together to problem-solve; your determination to do your very best and humbly commit yourselves to God for His use; the way He met us at every turn.  Tracy was right – it was our best concert to date.  As we finished “Arise, Shine” I found myself breathing hard and rejoicing because my vision for what I wanted this story to be had come to fruition; because the power of God had been in us; because we had fulfilled our calling that night.

Thank you, friends, for bearing the weight of ministry challenges and rejoicing in God’s work with me.  I cherish you.

Jill

In Praise of the Laborers

Recently when my sister visited, we had the opportunity to watch an updated version of one of my favorite movies, Sabrina.  The updated version stars Harrison Ford as Linus Larrabee the workaholic older brother who runs a multi-billion dollar dynasty.  (I promise not give any spoilers here, so it’s safe to read on.)  At one point in the movie Linus is chiding David, the younger brother who is a dilettante:

David Larrabee: You’re talking about my life.
Linus Larrabee: I pay for your life, David. My life makes your life possible.
David Larrabee: I resent that.
Linus Larrabee: So do I.

 Last week, KnoxCAM began our 2013-2014 season.  It was an exciting meeting!  There were new members including a well qualified orchestra director who was coming onboard this year, talk of the purchase of our own keyboard which can be used for travel or sectional rehearsals, and lots of sheet music!  I felt like it was Christmas with this year’s haul of shiny new toys!

As I walked out the door that evening, it suddenly hit me.  I’m like David Larrabee.  For years I’ve been having all the fun, not having to be concerned with where the money came from to sponsor this activity which gives me so much joy.  I know Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church includes KnoxCAM in its missions budget, but I am also aware we have other donors.  To my knowledge, they have all been anonymous donors some even giving things like hiring a bus to drive us to an event!  I honestly cannot tell you how many have given, nor how much they have given.

This part of the ministry has been kept somewhat transparent from those of us who volunteer our talents.  I know how I can donate funds to allow KnoxCAM to continue, but I’ve never been put under pressure to make a monetary donation in addition to the contribution of my time and abilities.  Yes, I’m a bit like David Larrabee; I have sometimes ignored those who “make KnoxCAM possible.”  There is, however, a giant difference between Linus Larrabee and our KnoxCAM donors; Mr. Larabee resented his role as the one whose monetary contribution made his brother’s life possible.  The donors who are part of our KnoxCAM family give out of their love for Jesus and a desire to spread the Gospel.

As I write this, it’s Labor Day 2013 and I want to express my gratitude to all those whose labor has provided the monetary resources which make KnoxCAM a reality.  Without you, KnoxCAM’s reach would be quite limited and our ability to express God’s loving message in such a beautiful way would be severely hindered.

If you have been inspired by the vision of this ministry, but do not have the time, or are not gifted with the artistic talents required to perform with us, please consider becoming a part of the KnoxCAM family by giving a monetary gift.  For information on donations, please see http://knoxcam.org/support/

Water

I knew I was in trouble the minute he streaked past me and out the door, but I’m fairly certain my terrier remembers it as “THE BEST WALK EVER!”  None of that staying on the paved roads!  This time we would see all the houses from the backyards and even traipse through the woods.  Fearing my terrier would take off at a full run and quickly outpace me, I sped down  the street and raced behind him into our neighbor’s garden, but my little scamp didn’t want to leave his mommy behind.  He would trot ahead, then sit patiently and wait for me to catch up . . . well almost catch up.  The little monster would pause until I lacked but a single pace to reach out and grab him, then he’d resume his merry adventure.

There were many sights to see, a steep hill down to the creek (which thankfully he decided not to navigate), lawn furniture, beach toys, a few individuals who were jogging or working in their yards, and other canines whose owners clearly did not understand the joy of running loose through the neighborhood visiting all the other shut-ins.  I followed along in hope that one of these visits would afford me the opportunity to snag my wayward friend, but even during his investigation of these new acquaintances, he was acutely aware of my proximity.

Half an hour into our journey, our woodland path suddenly dumped us out on the paved road which climbs the dune.  Would we end up at the parking lot full of cars whose owners were playing in the sand on the shores of Lake Michigan, or would we continue on the paved road down the hill and back into the neighborhood?  Neither!  Instead, it was back into the woods and down a steep slope to another backyard.  The hill claimed the last of my energy.  As luck would have it, the nice couple who lived the house at the base of the path, was enjoying brunch on their back porch.  This was my energetic pup’s undoing.  The smell of sausage wafted across the yard.  He trotted up the stairs to see if these kind humans might share some of that delicious meal.  Finally, success!  I stood at the bottom of the stairs whose sides were blocked by the most beautiful solid lattice in the world; well maybe it was just a plain wood lattice, but at that moment it was the finest thing I could have seen.

I captured the rogue and began the five block walk back to our cottage.  I couldn’t wait to get home.  All I could think about was the huge glass of cold water I would drink.  With each block, my desire for that water grew.  The thought of it gave me the needed incentive to carry that twenty pound prize I’d finally captured all the way home.  He needed the rest, too.

I don’t remember a time when I’ve craved water more than I did that day.  It served to remind me of how difficult it would be to be deprived of liquid refreshment for a long period of time.

When KnoxCAM goes into the prisons, one of our logistical challenges is making sure our members have access to water.  Our visits take several hours due to the time it takes to enter the prison, set up our equipment, and give our concert.  Dancers who expend a great deal of energy during the performance need refreshment; singers use the precious fluid to keep their throats lubricated.  I am certain that if I did not have access to water during our visits, I would begin to focus on its absence as I did the day my dog escaped.  So one of our planners is faithful to make sure this need is met.  Some of the prisons allow us to enter with an unopened bottle of water.  Other prisons provide us with cups and access to water.

During one particular visit, I noticed some of the prisoners carrying a large, heavy cooler of water to a table.  As usual, they brought out plastic cups.  I was busy making sure we had people prepared to hand out programs, but knew I would head over at the first opportunity to fill a cup with the precious liquid which I would keep by my chair throughout the afternoon.  I was surprised when a voice said, “Ma’am would you like this?”  I turned to see one of the prisoners holding out a full cup to me.  I took the generous offering and thanked the man.  He beamed and said, “We really appreciate you coming here.”  I watched the men for a few minutes.  They filled the cups and offered one to each of the members of our group.

What struck me was the joy with which they performed this service.  There was little these men could do for us in the way of hospitality, but the humbleness with which they performed this simple task made me feel like an honored guest.  I often recall that day when I am in a position to serve another person.  Am I showing an attitude of servanthood which will make others feel like honored guests?

With KnoxCAM, I am privileged to carry water to others.  It is not like the water in the cup, but like the living water Jesus offered to the Samarian woman (John 4:7-43).  Most Jews treated the Samaritans with disdain; they were enemies, a people unworthy of salvation.  A Jew would never ask for a kindness from a Samaritan, nor show any, yet here Jesus is asking the woman for a cup of water from the well.  He had been traveling all day and was in great need of the refreshing water.  Jesus took the opportunity to speak to the woman of the great spiritual need which she had.  He presented to her the idea that she needed the living water which would quench the real thirst she had in her life.  He offered her salvation.

Much like the Samaritan woman, the people to whom KnoxCAM ministers are sometimes seen by others as “undesirables.”  Our hope is to present them with living water, to help them realize their need just as Jesus helped the Samaritan woman at the well.  On Saturday, a small group of us will go to a homeless shelter and a jail.  We will take with us the living water which Jesus offered.  I hope to offer it with the humility and joy shown by our Christian brother who offered me a simple cup of water.  I pray it will quench the thirst of one who has traveled a long road and is in desperate need of refreshment.

John 4:14  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

? Are You Up To The Challenge ?

1 John 3:17-18: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words and tongue but with actions and in truth.”
Every person is special, every person deserves to be loved. If I take this biblical directive to heart, then I was not spending enough time investing in others. I was not being the love to the unloved.
Since this is important to my God and my Savior, it should be important to me. And that made me uncomfortable, because I was often way too busy with my day and my life, to be used in these ways.
Well, the cool sweet breath of life from Jesus blows in when you least expect it!
Four years ago, the Lord opened the door through KnoxCAM for me to return to a former love – handbells, while providing an offering of sweet incense to our Lord. I am reassured that while this path is not always convenient and easy, His satisfied presence resides within every performance at the prisons and homeless shelters.
Hebrews 13:16 directs us: “And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
If this directive resonates within your heart, I encourage you to simply ask, “What do they need,” and “How can I help?”
The answer may take you out of your comfort zone. The answer may take you to homeless shelters and prison gyms with little creature comforts, where the unloved are residing.
Are you up to the challenge?

What is success?

I’m an engineer by trade, which means that my life consists of a constant barrage of questions that normal people consider to be neurotic. “What’s wrong with this? When can you have it fixed? Why can’t you have it fixed sooner? Why did this go wrong? What should you have done to prevent it from going wrong? Why didn’t you pay attention to see that it could go wrong and do something about it before this happened?” The underlying assumption behind all the questions is the same: the outcome isn’t what it should have been; it’s all your fault, and you can do better.

Here’s my dilemma. KnoxCAM comes into facilities once a year, we do our little dance, sing our little songs, pack our things, and then leave. I don’t know how many inmates (if any) come to Christ, but if even one doesn’t, the questions start, as well as the assumptions that go along with it. We (I) weren’t outgoing enough. We (I) didn’t smile or have the proper demeanor. The material was shoddily done, etc.

What’s even worse is the knowledge that, no matter how hard I try, there are some factors that I have absolutely no control over. Some men are there just to see the goofy people who’ve come to play the great white hope, and they want some amusement at our expense. Some can’t think of anything better to do, so they come to get out of their cells for a little while. The infernal ballasts in the gyms hum so badly that everyone has trouble hearing what’s going on, and the sound tech pulls out what’s left of his hair. Some facilities won’t even let us speak with any inmates after we finish for security reasons. No matter which one happens, and it’s usually more than one, the voices start. “You incompetent dolt, they’re going to hell, and it’s your fault…”

At times like these, I have to re-adjust my definition of success. The world defines success as “getting things done”. (Seriously, that’s one of the “core values” at my job.) We want numbers. Make that widget work, crank out that product, “grab that cash with both hands and make a stash” (Roger Waters). That’s not God’s definition of success. God calls people successes that the world regards as absolute failures, and vice versa. Moses spent forty years in self-imposed exile, having thrown away all the prestige and power of Egypt to herd sheep in the middle of nowhere. Jeremiah is the Bible’s version of the Greek legend of Cassandra, always prophesying truth, but never believed. Most of the apostles died horribly painful deaths at the hands of the most powerful empire the world had ever seen up to that point, which couldn’t care less about some hick rabbi from the middle of nowhere, as long as you affirmed that Caesar was a god.

Mother Theresa summed it up by noting that God calls us to be faithful, not successful. The Old Testament saints all died looking forward to the promises of God, but having little clue how they would be fulfilled. Time and time again, God calls his people to do things that the world regards as silly for people the world regards as worthless. Who knows how it will turn out? I don’t, and I don’t have to. I just have to be faithful. I worry about results too much. That’s the business of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is chock full of incompetent dolts whom God uses to do amazing things.

You could say that prison ministry is an insult to my world-reinforced arrogance. I suppose that it is, but I prefer to think of it as a much-needed dose of sanity. Pretending to be omnipotent is exhausting.