Long story, so bear with me. October 24, 2015 at the Metro-Davidson County Detention Center in Nashville, I was assigned to coordinate pod “H”, or “Hotel”. Strange name for a pod in a correctional facility, but I didn’t think anything about that. Our team was told by the escorting officer that “H” housed the “worst of the worst”. OK by me, I thought to myself. John Lance was our platform speaker. John’s a Vietnam War veteran and his life for several years after the war was rocky to say the least. I also had Doug Manning, Robert Hancock and Michael McAdaragh as teammates. All three are prison ministry veterans and not bothered by the thought of a tough crowd.
We walked into “H” and found the offenders were already out of their cells. Eight phones were occupied by offenders presumably talking to loved ones. I plugged in the portable amp with the wireless microphone and began to announce John as speaker. Somehow the wireless microphone’s transmission cut all eight phones out. That might have been a good thing, except that the officers were not pleased at having so many offenders upset. I moved to the farthest corner away from the phones. No difference. The officer at the desk refused any other attempts at using that setup. No problem. This was not John’s first rodeo in prison and his voice is big and loud so he would cope. Another problem reared its ugly head though: The inmates were absolutely indifferent to our presence, except for those who were outright belligerent at the interruption of their Saturday morning routine.
To make a long story short, our veteran teammates and I, along with John, began going one on one, or with small groups. We had five people to minister to 35 to 40 in less than two hours. As I began to meander through, I was met with animosity. “YOU AIN’T GOT NOTHIN’ FOR ME!!” was among the kinder remarks I heard. The other teammates were engaged in ministry. I saw John praying with one of the offenders. A young man walked by me and I asked him if anybody had shared our tract with him. “MAN, I’M MUSLIM! I DON’T WANT NONE OF WHAT YOU GOT!”
I’ve witnessed to Muslims in prison before. 100% of the time they have had no respect for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I almost turned away. Something, or more appropriately Somebody, would not let me. “Humor me…please”, I replied.
After eyeing me up and down as if I had insulted him horribly, he hesitated. I asked him to sit. As he went to sit down I uttered a prayer, “God, show me…” You see, I’ve witnessed to Muslims before in prison to no avail. Those times I walked away feeling like that maybe God had planted a seed, but there was never a good feeling that even that had happened. “God, show me…”. As I uttered that prayer, John Lance was just there. We made eye contact, and I said, “John, Jerry (not his real name) is a muslim. Can you join us?” John sat down and began to engage Jerry. He started with “Brother, I never down a man’s religion. I never talk bad about Islam, Baptists, Pentecostals, Catholics… I just don’t.”
I just prayed. “God, please melt this man’s heart for you. Lord, not his words, but yours”.
John continued, “One of our brothers here today was a muslim for a lot of years. After he realized that allah was not ever answering his prayers, he turned to Jesus.”
Let me step away from the scene for a moment. As God would have it, I heard Larry Rowe’s testimony this afternoon. He had been a Muslim for 14 years. After a failed suicide attempt in prison, secured in a straight jacket and locked in a cell, he realized his prayers to allah had been unanswered. He cried out to allah once again and once again, nothing. He had been told about Jesus. As a last resort, he called out to Jesus and as he spoke to Jesus, he began to feel God’s presence. He knew it was like nothing he had ever felt and he knew that what he felt was REAL. John used this part of Larry’s testimony to witness to this young muslim.
Fast forward to Larry’s court hearing. As a third time felon, Larry was facing life in prison. He had continued in prayer to the Lord, but he didn’t have any expectation of anything other than life without parole. Jesus had other plans. The DA’s case load was so large that the prosecutor was largely unfamiliar with Larry. He recommended 12 years without possibility of parole. The judge sentenced him to eight years without parole. The judge beckoned the attorneys into her office and Larry returned to his cell. His lawyer came and told him that they had met about Larry’s sentence. Concerned, Larry said, “Please don’t mess up my eight years!” The lawyer said that the judge gave him an eight year sentence with a two for one deal. Instead of eight years without parole, Larry would get credit for two days for every one day he served without getting into trouble. He was free in four years and has spent his life in service to God. John, rather God through John, summarized John’s testimony to Jerry in a way that the young muslim could not ignore. As for me, I silently repeated my prayer, “Not his words, but Yours.”
Then John said it for the first of three times. “I ain’t telling you anything from me, I’m telling you what God is putting in me to tell you.”
I could see throughout that Jerry’s “countenance” (to borrow the KJV word) was changing. I could “see” the invisible Spirit of God moving to Jerry from John, transforming Jerry right in front of me. I felt tears welling in my own eyes as John wiped the tears from his own. Jerry smiled for the first time.
John continued then with his own testimony, of how he had grown mad with God after God had seen fit to take John’s infant son from him in 1998. He would have been 17 this year, John noted. John spoke of how his other young son’s prayer saved John’s wife’s life when she had a stroke in her early thirties. John refused to pray calling instead for his son to pray over his mom who was convulsing with a seizure on the floor from her stroke. God delivered her from what could have been; maybe should have been; certain death.
Still, John was unmoved. When his wife implored him to go to church, he refused. She coerced him into going, as only a wife can! His spirit began to change, and years later, when his son was involved in a serious motorcycle crash, he prayed. When the ambulance arrived at the hospital over an hour after the horrific crash, John’s son had no heartbeat. Death was certain. As the doors of the ambulance opened, John saw the flat line of the heart monitor begin to blip. God delivered John’s son in a way that that left no doubt that ONLY God’s healing power restored him. That brought more tears from the old thick-skinned former Hell’s Angel…and from me. There were no tears from Jerry though, only the same serene smile that had come across his face from early in John’s testimony.
Well, its now WAAYYY too late to make a long story short, but when John; with that country drawl that is uniquely John; led Jerry in the prayer of salvation, he said for the third time, “Lord, I hadn’t done nothin’ but say the words you told me to say!” Jerry was saved. PRAISE GOD, Jerry was saved!
I am reminded that although too many muslim based groups have chosen to make us their enemy, they have been blinded by the real enemy and need prayer. They need Jesus. Everybody needs Jesus. I’m reminded too of the importance of real-time, all the time prayer. God showed up in many forms today. For me, He was in the form of a worse-for-wear Vietnam vet, former outlaw biker turned warrior for God and a once hostile former muslim.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: 4 in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
Matthew 19:25-26 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? 26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.