My Prison Church Experience

prison church

As many of you know, my husband is a prison chaplain.  For most chaplains, this is simply a job, not a calling.  But not for my husband.  For my husband, it is a calling.  He does more than paperwork and counseling.  He pastors the church in prison.  And just like he is a different kind of chaplain, he is also a different kind of pastor.  He trains his men on how to lead instead of claiming the pulpit for himself.  Yes, he does preach, but he is also comfortable forgotten on the sidelines.

Before he became a full-time chaplain, he was a volunteer chaplain for two years at the Michael Unit (TDCJ).  He worked as a field boss at the Coffield Unit by day, and two nights a week he volunteered over at the Michael.

Because we lived in the extreme country, and we have two children, I was unable to go with him.  Truth be told, he doesn’t like me to go.  He works at a prison.  He knows what goes on there.  It is no place for a lady.  Even though there are genuine Christians who have repented and keep their mind pure, just like in the real world, there are people that still play church.   And a majority of these offenders happen to be sex offenders.

Two years ago (2011), he was blessed to accept a full-time chaplain position (Telford Unit), so that ended his volunteer status at the Michael Unit.  We were home for the holidays (back in the Michael Unit area), and he got clearance for us to spend Thanksgiving evening at the worship service at the Michael Unit.  I had secured babysitting, and I was in my head-to-toe modest-dressed best, with my piano music at the ready.  I didn’t know what to expect, so I just went prepared.

This particular unit has a trustee camp, and this is where the church is located.  It’s just a large classroom that is also used for church.  We walked in, and the men were overjoyed to see Jimmy.  Strong relationships had been formed and cultivated, and the mutual love and respect was evident.  My heart puffed a little for my husband.  He is one of the few that looks beyond the white jumper and sees the red blood that runs in these men’s veins.  He sees through Jesus’ eyes.

Several of the men came up and visited with me, and I was not withdrawn.  I did not fear for my safety.  They were gentlemen.  They were friendly.  They did not invade my personal space.  They did not look at me like a wolf looks at his dinner.

It was time for service to start, and, in all honesty, I expected it to be depressing.  After all, these were bound men.  My husband had told me many times how he much prefers prison church to free world church, because of the purity of worship in these men.  Well, I was about to find out what he was talking about.

The church did have a keyboard and some microphones.  That was it.  And they were all dressed in their white jumpsuits.  They had all been brought equal under TDCJ guidelines.  Seated next to my husband, I was just waiting, observing.  The choir came out and began to sing old choruses of worship.  It was the most beautiful singing I had ever heard.  So pure and honest.

The power of the Lord fell mightily on me.  I have been in a lot of earth-moving services, but this was by far the most powerful.   I was on my knees, broken under the goodness of God, whose power was manifested and somehow multiplied in this place of bondage.  It was an amazing experience and testimony to God’s love and the freedom that can only come in Christ.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s like this in every prison.  Unfortunately, it’s not.  Some chaplains suppress the offenders and only want them to worship and preach the way that the chaplain says they can.  There is no freedom there.  Unfortunately, it becomes another game of control.

But God anointed and appointed Jimmy Martin for this cause.  He has opened up doors for my husband that only He could have opened.  These last two years has just been one amazing door-opening experience after another.  And, no, they don’t all get publicized.  I’m unable to share many of the amazing things God has done and is doing because of the privacy laws.  But just know that there are men that are repenting in prison.  There are men turning to Jesus in prison.  There are men receiving the Holy Ghost in prison.

Jimmy is unable to “witness” in prison in the way that you and I have the freedom to witness in the free world.  Being a chaplain has nothing to do with being a Christian in the state’s eyes.  But remember that we are all witnesses everyday, and we never even have to open our mouths.  He is given the opportunity to preach and teach his beliefs in a scheduled Christian service, but it is against the law for him to give unsolicited counsel about a Christian life.  However, these men know that there is something different about this chaplain.  It is evident by the way he treats them–with love and with respect.  Pray that God will strengthen Jimmy’s silent witness and silence his enemies.


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