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.

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