This is why we do what we do

Mitchell County Tent 1

In an open-air tent on a crisp Sunday night, 50 men from the Mitchell County Correctional Institute took a virtual tour to Israel and discovered new truths about the depth of God’s grace.

Once in a while, the question still comes up … “Tell me again WHY you left your church?”

On Sunday night, I remembered.

A friend of mine is a warden at what he calls the “county lock-up.” It’s a small prison filled with men who won’t be there too terribly long – unless, of course, you’re counting the days from inside the fence. Anyway, my friend rented a tent and invited a few preachers to come inside for a week of revival services.

I drew the first two nights.

None of the men who showed up had ever been to Israel. Most of them, however, were doing a lot of thinking about where they’d been, and where they’d like to go. Their highest priority wasn’t a place, of course. Their highest priority was finding a life that would never again put them in orange jumpsuits and require them to do menial tasks for the county that had locked them up.

For an hour, all of us traveled by video to Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee. For the first time, these 50 saw the view of the Temple Mount as it rises into view from the Mount of Olives. For the first time, they saw Gordon’s Calvary, the Garden Tomb and the Sea of Galilee.

I don’t know if it was the first time for any of them to see how fully God loves all of us or not, but when I asked them if they wanted to join me in a journey of grace, every one of them was with me.

I cannot think of a more fulfilling way to spend a Sunday night.

For 26 wonderful years, I spent my Sundays with people who never came to church in orange jumpsuits. It was a wonderful ride filled with friends, comfort and incredible music. We even heard a few sermons that included phrases like, “I was in prison, and you visited me …”

Two of the churches I served had active prison ministries. These men and women introduced me to the thrill of going inside and meeting men and women who desperately wanted to find a reason to hope again. It was in one of those prison ministries that the idea of EIN was born. It took a few years and more than a few miracles to develop the ministry, but by God’s direction and the generosity of more people than I could even remember, EIN came into being.

There is no other experience quite like this. It’s our dream to find more prisons, more schools, and more churches that want to see how the land of the Bible can bring the lessons of the Bible to life.

So why did we leave a perfectly good church to try something that very well might not “work?”

Because 50 men in orange jumpsuits needed to go to work today remembering that God is still handing out second chances to anyone wise enough to take the grace.