Sunday, July 19, 2015

A different kind of church

I never thought I would attend church in a prison, but that's exactly what we did on our first Sunday in South Africa.

I have to admit, prison ministry has never appealed to me. Not that I don't think it's a wonderful thing, but I signed up for this trip for the orphans, not to hang out with prisoners. I didn't hear about this task and think it would be awesome.

I was wrong.

To get into the prison, we had to go through security, and everyone got frisked. They took the women into a separate room for the frisking, which was thoughtful. I only felt slightly violated.

Once in, someone took us around the maze of confusing hallways and showed us different areas of the prison, and then took us to a big hall where several hundred men in orange jumpsuits were gathered for their church service. We were given seats in the front and over to the side so that we could not only see what was happening up front, but also in the whole building.

A line of men were standing in the front when we walked in, and they each had a microphone and were leading worship. Most of the music was in Zulu and we couldn't understand a thing they were saying or singing, but it didn't really matter. It was so blatantly obvious that they were worshiping the Lord, and it was some of the most genuine worship I have ever witnessed.

Most of the men were singing at the top of their lungs, eyes closed, faces upturned, and arms reaching out to their Savior. The presence of the Holy Spirit filled that building in a way I have never experienced before. I couldn't stop crying. Tears were pouring down my face. And then they said that they were gonna pray, and everyone started praying out loud at the same time in what they call a Jericho prayer.

I LOVE Jericho prayers! Even though I'm on the prayer team at the Foundry at Bel Air on Tuesday nights, and I have led and been part of plenty of Bible studies over the years where I prayed out loud on a regular basis, doing so is not something I'm entirely comfortable with. I'm not sure I ever will be, which is why the discovery of the Jericho prayer was so wonderful for me! I can pray out loud right along with everyone else, and the room can be filled with voices lifted up to God, but I can maintain a sense of a private moment with just Him and me. It's kind of like singing worship. Everyone in the room is singing the same thing together, and it's communal and for that reason the presence of God is more powerful ("For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." Matthew 18:20), but worship draws us closer to God in a very individual way.

We didn't stay for the entire service with the adult prisoners, but went to a juvenile section to talk to the kids there. They began with singing, and there was a lot of stomping and clapping, and it was truly beautiful. I wish I could have recorded the singing, but we couldn't have any cameras inside the prison. After the singing, a couple guys from our team gave their testimonies, and Matt lead the group in the sinner's prayer. Almost every boy in the room repeated the words, but I don't know how many meant it. I pray for their hearts, to thirst for God so that they pursue a relationship with Him.

After our morning at the prison, we headed back to the conference center for some lunch and time to reflect and rest, and then we headed off to the evening service at Maranatha church. We arrived early so that we could take part in the prayer meeting the young adults hold before each service. There is so much prayer that goes into this church! It is inspiring; they are a true picture of a praying church. They don't do anything without first covering it completely in prayer. As a result, God shows up and is doing a great work there. I want my church to be like that. I want my life to be like that!

Far too often I forget to bring aspects of my life to God in prayer. I forget to submit everything to Him and I take control without even thinking. I'm working on that. What would my life look like if I prayerfully considered everything I did instead of only the big things, or some of the big things? It's time to find out.

After the church service (during which I heard a worship song that I had previously only heard in Russian, at Bible School in Germany 14 years prior), we were ushered to a cafe/gym that they have at their church (which is also a school campus), and they made their favorite meal for us, which was pretty much the same as bratwurst, and then we spent time playing games together and getting to know each other.

I loved their bathroom stall doors!

That night when we headed back to the conference center, our team ended up hanging out for several hours. We told stories and laughed a lot, and were able to really bond for the first time as a team. We only had two meetings going into the trip, and with the exception of a few, we didn't know each other very well. It's important to feel comfortable with your teammates, and this night did a great job of accomplishing that.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Our first full day

Our first morning began with breakfast at 6:30. Auntie Pat and Rosie had prepared an incredible breakfast with plenty of options to choose from. As a team, we discussed what our day would hold and then we had a devotional. These times together alone as a team were vital, being that we had only had two meetings prior to our trip, and a lot of us didn't know each other well, if at all. Being able to discuss where we all were in our walks with Christ and how He has worked in our lives enabled us to connect with each other and understand where we were all coming from, helping us to work together on the trip.

After breakfast, Andre, who is the pastor of outreach, and Darren, a member of the young adults group, picked us up and took us to the church for a prayer meeting with the prison ministry team. 

We rode around in two vans like this for the duration of our trip

What a group of men and women! So welcoming, so joyful, and so passionate about sharing God's love with prisoners. The prisoners here are required to go through restorative justice, which means that they are taught what is right and wrong, they have to own up to what they did, and they send a letter to their victims acknowledging their wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness. Once they are at that point, the prison ministry team works on their hearts and salvation, and the prisoners even have a choice to continue the program to become pastors.

The team goes into the prison every week, and before they go, they meet to pray for the ministry and the prisoners. During the meeting this morning, after praying for the prisoners, they had our team stand in a group in the center of the room and they surrounded us and prayed for us. I could feel the presence of God so powerfully that tears just started running down my face, which tends to happen to me in moments like those. When they were done praying, we switched places, putting their group in the center, surrounding them, and covering them with prayer. 

After the meeting, Pastor Andre and his wife, and Darren along with his parents and his 9-year-old brother Jordan took us on a beautiful drive up to a marketplace where we had some time to do some shopping for souvenirs and gifts. I found gifts for almost everyone I was planning on buying for, as well as a painting and a carved Noah's Ark filled with a bunch of animals for myself, and then also managed to solicit the attention of a vendor named Shumba, who emailed me for many months afterward. It appears that I could have African babies if I wanted to, but my mother specifically told me not to fall in love and move to Africa, so I think I'll have to pass on this flattering opportunity.

People just hang out on the side of the road. A wheelbarrow can make a good chair, I guess!

From the marketplace they took us to the lion park, where we started with lunch before venturing out to see the animals. I was lucky enough to sit directly across from Jordan, who was sandwiched by the michievous Matt Jones and Jon Stoll. Both men work with high schoolers at Bel Air, and watching them in action left no doubt in my mind that those Bel Air boys are lucky to have such amazing leaders! By amazing, I clearly mean insane, maniacal, and full of shenanigans, while also modeling spiritual maturity and a sincere devotion to God. They can deliver an inspiring message that will leave a listener wanting a closer relationship with Jesus, and then turn around and deliver a young boy's first ever wet willy with speed, procision, and hilarity. It is unreal. Luckily for Jordan, he has lots of sass and could throw it right back at them. I have high hopes for this kid. 

Jordy being Simba

Jenna enjoying the shenanigans

Getting to pet baby lions was pretty epic. We only got two minutes with them, but in that time, one of the cubs fell in love with my flowing skirt and ended up putting a hole in it with his teeth. I mean, not to brag or anything, but a lion put a hole in my skirt and I lived to tell about it!

There were also camps of adult lions and other animals that we got to see.

Once we were finished with the animals, we went headed back to the conference center. One of the things that was pointed out to us on the way was a squatter camp, which is a place where the homeless build shelter for themselves out of anything they can find. They are vast communities of impoverished people, banding together to have a place to live. I don't know why, but the lines of drying laundry along the outside walls always caught my attention. I often complain when I have to lug my bag of laundry to the washer and dryer at my apartment complex, but this really put things into perspective for me. I'm lucky to have machines to wash my clothes. I don't have to wash them by hand and hang them up and worry about someone else taking off with them.

Back at the conference center, we joined our tenth team member, Jenny, and the Maranatha young adults for a night of worship around a campfire. This was when we met most of the team that would accompany us to Embo later in the week. I met Beyers that night, and I knew from our first conversation that we would be friends. He was funny and friendly, and he introduced me to his girlfriend Leanie. I have never in my entire life met anyone so enthusiastic about his girlfriend, and it was very endearing. He also brought me a guitar so that our team would have one to play. I had brought my worship music folder, and would have brought a guitar along if I needed to, but I was assured that there would one for me there.

For me, daily worship music is necessary. It brings me close to God and draws me into His presences like nothing else can. That night I played the guitar and worshiped late into the night.